Prospero, the deposed duke of Milan, watches with his daughter Miranda as a tempest rages. She begs him to use his magical powers to stop the storm. A ship is wrecked, and the passengers seem to drown, but Prospero shows Miranda that this has been an illusion of his making, and he has caused the men to land safely on the island. Twelve years ago, the men usurped Prospero’s dukedom and put him and the infant Miranda to sea in a rotten boat, which landed on the island. The exiled Prospero then resorted to his books on the magic arts and took two servants: Ariel, an airy spirit, and Caliban, the deformed son of a witch.
Prospero causes Miranda to sleep, and Ariel and Caliban appear. While Prospero favors Ariel over Caliban and has promised to free him once his plans for revenge have been executed, these two servants represent the polarities of Prospero's powers. As Prospero observes his enemies wandering, lost, on the island, he meditates on what he has done and the revenge that he plans.
Alonso, King of Naples, who conspired with Antonio, Prospero’s brother, to usurp the dukedom, mourns the supposed death of his son Ferdinand. Elsewhere on the island, Ariel leads Ferdinand to Prospero, who awakens Miranda. The youngsters immediately fall in love, and Prospero observes their relationship, ordering Ferdinand to perform hard physical labor in order to prove himself worthy.
Stephano, a foolish butler, and Trinculo, a jester, encounter Caliban during a storm. The humans make a fool of him, but Caliban hopes that they will be able to help him get his revenge.
The good councilor Gonzalo attempts to make peace among the conspirators, who quarrel and plot against each other. Tensions grow. Island spirits frighten them, and Ariel appears as a fearsome harpy, further terrifying the hapless men.
Prospero makes himself known to his foes, confronts his evil brother, and reveals that Ferdinand is alive. Meanwhile, the spirits of the island pursue Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban, tormenting them.
Prospero forgives his enemies, prepares to return with them
to Milan, and frees Ariel to become one with air and water. Together with
the future rulers of Milan – Ferdinand and Miranda, who will be
married – Prospero and the courtiers set sail, while Caliban is
left abandoned on the island.
The Tempest is co-commissioned by American Ballet Theatre and The National Ballet of Canada.