Hamlet - to sing or not to sing?
So was another Hamlet needed? ”The ultimate
weakness of Thomas’ score is evident... The libretto is
efficient, but the music, while often melodious and
accommodating to the voices, never achieves
sufficient emotional depth to render Hamlet a
genuinely tragic figure”. (Culturevulture).
And then there was Brett Dean
Dean’s Hamlet has no showpiece arias and the music
is not well described as melodious, but it has been
hailed as demonstrating the power of opera. (The
Conversation). It burst onto Glyndebourne in 2017,
triumphed in Adelaide in 2018 , and is scheduled for
the Met next season (following the full opera
performance for U3A Nillumbik, 14/12/18!)
We conclude our terms on operas from Shakespeare
with Dean’s innovation, hailed by The Telegraph for
“the power of music to transform the play” More
critical accounts here and here. Listen to the ABC
interview with Dean.
The text? The team aimed for 20% of Shakespeare’s
since sung text takes much longer. Here’s Hamlet’s
‘To be…. But they also innovated, playing the text in
different settings, deconstructing it – here the players
play ‘To be…’ . “The operatic equivalent of fridge
magnet poetry,” a critic called it, but acknowledged
it “keeps you on your toes.”
The first (successful) opera
Amboise Thomas (1811 –1896) a French
composer, produced his Hamlet in 1868, a
melodious work with traditional showpiece
arias. Paris went wild for Ophelia. Details here.
Recently revived and much praised, the Hamlet
of Thomas was performing in major opera
houses when Brett Dean committed to his
version. Recent discussion here and a more
detailed critique of music and roles here.
Ophelia’s mad scene is the highlight of
Thomas’ opera, often a concert solo. (Melba
played her, later Sutherland, Callas and
Natalie Dessay. This Hamlet is a baritone
(because there was no great tenor available for
the role!) with a famous drinking song - not in
Shakespeare. Keenlyside triumphed at the Met
in the role . Here he sings the drinking song. (cf
Has it weakened the characters? Most are there,
some (particularly Gertrude) much stronger.
And where Shakespeare’s characters roam lonely
on the stage, the opera won a brilliant chorus - a
strong character in itself (SMH).
The plot? It’s shrink-wrapped, cut and tightened,
even deleting Fortinbras . So is this briefer plot
short on ‘emotional depth’?
Conclusion: opera vs. play? Vladimir Jurowski,
who conducted at Glyndebourne premiere, said
“after a while hearing the Shakespearean lines
with this music, you stop distinguishing between
them”. Watch Dean’s version of Ophelia’s mad
scene, and the ghost scene.
Our production, Fri. 7 & 14th Dec.
Glyndebourne, UK. Libretto - Matthew Jocelyn, Dir.
Neil Armfield. London Philharmonic Orchestra &
Glyndebourne Chorus, cond. Vladimir Jurowski.
Allan Clayton (Hamlet), Sarah Connolly (Gertrude),
Barbara Hannigan (Ophelia).
Interview with Clayton
Limelight article & reviews