Met Live in HD: Hamlet

I went to Tinseltown yesterday to see the Met live in HD again. This time it was Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas and starred English baritone Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet and German soprano Marlis Petersen as Ophelie.

This French opera was written in 1867-68 and premiered in 1868 at the Paris Opera. It is based on a French adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which was written by Alexandre Dumas and Paul Meurice. This was the first production of Hamlet by the met in over 100 years.

What a fabulous production this was! Keenlyside was mesmerizing. It was so hard to take your eyes off him when he was on stage. Not only was his singing fabulous but his acting portrayal of Hamlet was very compelling. He was a haunting mix of suave elegance and agitated hysteria; handsome, princely and convincing.

Petersen was also fantastic. She was literally rushed in, to take the part originally cast for Natalie Dessay, at the last minute (due to Ms. Dessay’s illness). Petersen missed the dress rehearsal due to finishing her run of performances in the role of Medea at the Vienna State Opera, and in fact the Met flew the French pianist Pierre Vallet (currently guest assistant conductor at the Met and a French diction specialist) to Vienna to coach her for the part of Ophelie just six days before opening night. It is astounding that Petersen–on the heels of a pretty grueling and very vocally demanding run as Medea–learned a five-act, three-hour French opera in just 6 days! She has a beautiful tone to her voice and the role of Ophelie is very challenging, requiring the soprano to reach right into the extremes of the upper register. Opehlie also has a long mad scene that requires convincing acting ability and Petersen pulled it off very well; she had great stage presence and a wonderful charisma.

I was also very impressed with the rest of the cast, particularly with Jennifer Larmore, the American mezzo-soprano who played Gertrude.

Anyone familiar with Thomas’ original Hamlet may know that the ending was significantly different to Shakespeare’s play, in that Hamlet survives to be crowned King of Denmark. However, due to the literary sensibilities of a British public, Thomas was persuaded to rewrite the ending to match Shakespeare’s for the 1869 premiere at Covent Garden in London, and this is the version that the Met has produced.

The whole production was amazing. The sets were minimal but the players filled the stage and the result was emotional and intense. I am so glad to have seen this production!!

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