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 from Hamlet 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 Hvorostovsky).
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 .