[Met Performance] CID:353424
New Production
Hamlet {10} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/16/2010., Sirius and XM Broadcast live
Streamed at metopera.org

(Debuts: Patrice Caurier, Moshe Leiser, Christian Fenouillat, Agostino Cavalca, Christophe Forey, Toby Spence, Maxim Mikhailov, Peter Richards, Joshua Wynter, Christian Rozakis

Metropolitan Opera
March 16, 2010 Broadcast/Streamed

New Production

Am. Thomas-Carré/Barbier

Hamlet..................Simon Keenlyside
Ophélie.................Marlis Petersen
Claudius................James Morris
Gertrude................Jennifer Larmore
Laerte..................Toby Spence [Debut]
Polonius................Maxim Mikhailov [Debut]
Horatio.................Liam Bonner
Marcellus...............Matthew Plenk
Ghost...................David Pittsinger
Gravedigger.............Richard Bernstein
Gravedigger.............Mark Schowalter
Player King.............Peter Richards [Debut]
Player Queen............Joshua Wynter [Debut]
Player Villain..........Christian Rozakis [Debut]

Conductor...............Louis Langrée

Production..............Patrice Caurier [Debut]
Production..............Moshe Leiser [Debut]
Set Designer............Christian Fenouillat [Debut]
Costume Designer........Agostino Cavalca [Debut]
Lighting Designer.......Christophe Forey [Debut]

Hamlet received eight performances this season

The production a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmer J. Thomas, Jr.

Broadcast live on Sirius and XM Metropolitan Opera Radio
Streamed at metopera.org

Production owned by the Grand Théâtre de Gèneve

Production photos of Hamlet by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera and Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera.

Review of David J. Baker in OPERA NEWS

Ambroise Thomas's "Hamlet," after more than a century's absence, has returned to the Metropolitan Opera in a shrewd coproduction that holds out a promise of rehabilitation for this uneasy blend of Shakespeare and grand opera. The well-traveled staging by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser has held its own in Geneva, Barcelona and London by banishing most of the grandiosity and converting this oxymoronic French "Hamlet" into a streamlined vehicle for a few strong singing actors.

It looked briefly as if the Met's production (seen Mar. 16) might not recover from the loss of its Ophélie, after Natalie Dessay withdrew because of illness. Thomas's 1868 adaptation has been damned by critics for inflating the passive heroine's role, thus robbing Hamlet to pay Ophélie. Librettists Michel Carré and Jules Barbier were basically repeating the operation they had performed on Goethe's "Faust" for Gounod a decade earlier, which was to turn a drama of some depth and complexity into a love story; in the process, their heroine moved to center stage. In the case of Ophélie, the expansion of the role is pure formula: she gets action-stopping set pieces, especially a long, generic bel canto mad scene. It requires a Dessay, not just expressive, but inventive, to supply some essential dramatic content.

Her short-notice replacement was German coloratura Marlis Petersen. Petersen - who did not arrive in New York until after the production's official dress rehearsal did not project a very strong presence in her first scenes, and there were disturbing signs of strain and vague pitch in the upper reaches of her singing. It was hard to banish memories of Dessay's uncanny concentration, which made her filmed Ophélie almost eerily taut and fragile from the very beginning. But Petersen asserted herself before long with growing proof of vocal temperament and purposeful phrasing. Her mad scene went farther still, revealing an appealing legato style and a well-focused, radiant mezza voce that seemed ideal for the plaintive lines. Her Ophélie may not have acted much like a tragic heroine, but it truly sounded like one.

Simon Keenlyside, like Dessay an essential anchor of the production since 1996, has a firm grip on the opera's title role and a charismatic stage presence - strengths that restore some of the essential balance in this drama, His portrayal abounds in eccentric posturing and passive-aggressive games, without going to the neurotic, willowy extremes of an Olivier or a Gielgud. Forceful gestures and a fundamental macho quality suggest that this is a man of action undone by tragic events, not the embodiment of Oedipal or suicidal symptoms.

Keenlyside's sound has grown and darkened since earlier Met roles and apparently since the "Hamlet" video from Barcelona (2004), lending explosive energy to his displays of anger. The famous "brindisi" became a tour de force of snarling menace. He sang with flexibility and eloquence, but without much range in vocal coloring for some of Thomas's shapely lyrical effects. He has a tendency to distort French vowels for expressive purpose. Undeniably, though, this is a rich vocal performance in the service of a masterful characterization.

In Jennifer Larmore the company had a riveting Gertrude, a role that Thomas made into a virtuoso star turn with an ambitious range. Extreme makeup makes this Gertrude resemble a Norma Desmond verging on Cruella De Vil, as if to convert her essential weakness into pure villainy, but Larmore gave the character an affecting vulnerability. She projected the complex vocal lines with force and musical coherence. Her confrontations with Keenlyside provided some of the evening's most stirring moments.

As the villainous Claudius, James Morris was suitably wily and unpleasant, though his thin, nasal vocal delivery could not do justice to the role. English tenor Toby Spence made his company debut as a warm, youthful Laërte, who sang securely without conveying much Gallic flavor.

Conductor Louis Langrée had his problems with coordination and balance, especially in early scenes and the Act II climax. He stressed the dark, brooding qualities in the orchestral interludes and seemed to relish the unusual instrumental coloring Thomas provides at key moments such as the pantomime in the banquet scene or the accompaniment for Ophélie. For the most part, this was an efficient performance, but not a particularly poetic one.

Efficiency was the key to the physical production as well, with its emphasis on interactions between individuals. Some of the choral music was deleted, and one of the procession scenes kept most of the chorus offstage. The staging was often effective in its economy, such as in the slick play-within-a-play to "catch the conscience of a king," in which the stylized murder pantomime was shown in oversize projected silhouette. Another efficient touch was the use of the more Shakespearean ending, which Thomas provided as an alternate: rather than surviving to be king, Keenlyside's Hamlet died from wounds received at Laërte's hand.

The costumes by Agostino Cavalca offered the familiar mix of period and contemporary - gowns for the women, a long cloak for Claudius, sporty "business casual" for the junior males. It seemed appropriate for angry young Hamlet to be bending the dress code the farthest, appearing barefoot, slouching, hands in pockets as if in a glossy clothing ad. Christian Fenouillat's sets reflected the contemporary European contempt for operatic eye candy with an Elsinore that was nothing but bare wall panels, often filling the stage at awkward angles to one another. But there was strategy at work here too. The one break in the prevailing gloom was the paradoxical switch to brightness and flowers in the mad scene: prettiness in this state of Denmark can only be a[sic] hallucination.

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