Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hamlet in HD

Hamlet..................Simon Keenlyside
Ophélie.................Marlis Petersen
Claudius................James Morris
Gertrude................Jennifer Larmore
Laerte..................Toby Spence
Polonius................Maxim Mikhailov
Horatio.................Liam Bonner

Conductor...............Louis Langrée
Production..............Patrice Caurier, Moshe Leiser

Not one note of Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet (1868), today's HD simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera, was familiar to me. Not to worry. The romantic idiom of the piece is exactly as expected.

In Renée Fleming's interviews at intermission it was mentioned that the opera originally did not include Hamlet's death, and Anglo-Saxon audiences were horrified. As a result, an alternate ending was written in which Hamlet and Laertes fight and mortally wound one another. This later ending is the one used today.

On the whole I would recommend while viewing this opera to remember that this is an opera and not the immortal play by Shakespeare. Hamlet's father's death in the opera is the result of a conspiracy, and Polonius, Ophelia's father, is a co-conspirator. Ophelia's role is naturally bigger, and Hamlet's is smaller than in the play. It's still a wonderful role for an acting baritone, such as Simon Keenlyside. His voice didn't seem at all odd to me this time as he had at Garnier last month, and he seemed ideal for this role.

Marlis Petersen replaced Natalie Dessay. She was acceptable, especially in the mad scene. The general level of intensity was high across the cast with the exception of Marlis who seemed rather cool. It would have been different with Natalie.

The biggest shock for me was Jennifer Larmore as Gertrude. She was a bit out of her Fach in a dramatic mezzo part, but she developed a fully realized characterization that was quite intense.

All in all it was a lot of fun.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]


Paul said...

I'm surprised you haven't heard "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" before, as it's a popular recital vehicle for baritones - and also one of the great drinking songs in opera. Keenlyside was simply amazing, both his singing AND his acting. I was glad to see Larmore in a non-trouser role for a change; I thought she sounded terrific, and her acting has kicked up a notch since "Julio Cesare" here in Denver a few years ago.

James Morris is an embarrassment to himself and the Met and should simply retire already. The bass who was one of the two gravediggers would have done a far better job as Claudius.

[When Hamlet was hiding behind the wall with the dagger in his hand and Claudius made his entrance, my wife leaned over to me and whispered, "Maybe Hamlet'll do us all a favor and kill the king before he starts to sing." No such luck!]

Petersen was pretty good in that she hit all the notes and seemed credible in the role, but you just have to wonder how much more electric the production would have been with Dessay. I have the DVD of this opera with Keenlyside + Dessay in a 2003 performance from Barcelona, and she does an amazing job. However, I think Simon sang better today than in the recording.

Dr.B said...

Hi Paul. Friends in the audience also had cracks to make.
Friend: Larmore was better.
Me: Better than what?
Friend: Everything else she's done.

Dr.B said...

So would you recommend this DVD?