Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bastardized Bard



Composed by Ambroise Thomas

Conducted by Louis Langrée
Directed by Patrice Caurier & Moshe Leiser

Starring Simon Keenlyside, Marlis Petersen, Jennifer Larmore, Toby Spence, James Morris

March 16-April 9, 2010

Metropolitan Opera


There’s a reason why Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet hasn’t been performed at the Met since 1897: this mediocre opera brings little more to Shakespeare’s tragedy than occasionally lilting music.

As an example of late 19th century French grand opera, Hamlet delivers, bookending the action with rousing chorales. And there are, admittedly, good moments for the four main characters (Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude and Claudius). But too much of Thomas’ music runs in place, with very little dramatic development happening throughout a nearly 3-½ hour running time. Although it’s not the dullest opera ever written, it’s sometimes deadly in its mind-numbing sameness.

The Met’s production, imported from Geneva by directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, is simple but messy. Two circular, movable walls that adorn the large Met stage are supposed to stand in for Elsinore castle’s various locations, but instead usually make the stage look empty. The chance to stage French grand opera on a grand scale, aside from Gertrude and Ophelia’s costumes, was missed.

The Met singers and musicians make Hamlet tolerable. Louis Langrée conducts the mighty Met Orchestra and Chorus with a deft touch, giving Thomas’s amiably unmemorable score the thrust and drama it usually lacks. Several singers bring their “A” game: Jennifer Larmore dazzles vocally as Gertrude, even if her acting is too eye-poppingly histrionic; Toby Spence does wonders with the small part of Laertes; and Marlis Petersen, in her Met debut as Ophelia, shows off a superlative range of vocal colors, bravura acting and sophisticated sex appeal. She even overcomes the laughably staged suicide scene, making it as plausible and touching as possible in this confused context.

Simon Keenlyside might be too old for Hamlet (he looks older than his mother, played by Larmore), but with vocal stamina and acting ability that have never been in doubt, he attacks this taxing role ferociously. Although he’s no Olivier, it’s Keenlyside’s fearless performance that ultimately makes this Hamlet worth seeing and hearing.

originally posted on timessquare.com

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