About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Opera That Made Me Yell At My Television

It was a drizzly Saturday afternoon earlier this fall. I was snuggled up with my cat, a snack and some knitting (I sound like an old lady, don't I? I'm 27. I swear), and settled in to watch The Metrpolitan Opera's production of "Hamlet", which they had previously broadcast live in HD, and was running on TV. I'm a fan of Simon Keenlyside, who was playing the title role, and was really looking forward to watching it.

Before long, my roommates started hearing the following exclamations coming from my room:

"What are you doing?"
"That's not what happens!"
"What? WHAT? WHAT??!!!"

Considering my drama education, it's safe to say I'm pretty familiar with Shakespeare's Hamlet, and to quote star Simon Keenlyside in his between-acts interview with Renee Fleming, "it's Hamlet, it's just not Shakespeare's Hamlet". Now, I wasn't expecting them to follow the original to the letter, obviously to translate it between mediums you need to streamline the story and simplify it to its core themes. I'd say what Ambroise Thomas's opera does is pluck subtext from some scenes, stick it onto others, and also grossly rearrange the show.

The change that bothers me the most (if you don't want to know what's different, stop reading here) is the relationships of Polonius and Ophelie (here, in the French) to Hamlet. Polonius barely appears until halfway through the show, at which point he's revealed to be a co-conspirator. Hamlet discovers this, and becomes the reason he rejects Ophelie--because her father helped kill his. She loses her mind and kills herself, then, not because of the torment of her father being murdered by her beloved, but simply because her would-be fiance turned her down. This makes her a weaker, much less complex creature; but very much of-the-time, as this was first performend in 1868. But come on, if I went nuts and killed myself every time a man let me down...I would be dead by now.

Oh, and speaking of death, Polonius doesn't even die! And Hamlet doesn't duel Laertes in the final scene, he kills him in a fight right before Ophelie's funeral, when he doesn't know she's dead yet. And then the ghost shows up at the end to help Hamlet kill Claudius.

There were a few touches I liked--like when Hamlet is waiting on the roof with Bernardo and Horatio, you can hear the sounds of the wedding party going on in the background, and they look at Hamlet as if to say "Sorry, dude." They also include a love duet for Hamlet and Ophelie at the beginning, which is nice because in Shakespeare's play you never actually see them together as a couple before things start going awry (I also like the fact that soprano Marlis Peterson's skirt was so floofy, they both had to smoosh it down so that Keenlyside could lie in her lap).

There's also a great scene for Hamlet at the banquet after the Players put on their show where he actually comes out and accuses Claudius of murder (which did bother me, because that messes up so much of Hamlet's character. He has so many scenes in the play about his self-loathing and lack of courage because he is unwilling or afraid to accuse Claudius openly!), but no one believes him becuase he's drunk, and then he climbs on the table and pours the blood red wine all over himself (see below):

Simon Keenlyside/The Metropolitan Opera

Speaking of which, Simon Keenlyside's performance was completely terrific. He has a gorgeous voice (I will admit a weakness for baritones-I love that full, rich sound), he's very handsome, and has a down-to-earth, likeable stage presence. And then there's his great acting choices; in moments of fury, he's smashing the furniture with rage, and then and in his frustration at Claudius digs little holes in the wall with his knife.

Simon Keenlyside/The Metropolitan Opera

Obviously, I'm not very impressed with the translation of the work from play to opera. I'm irritated by the changes to the plot, and the music didn't really linger with me.  However, the overall production elements were quite good. Hamlet is a great part, and Keenlyside performed the heck out of it--the only drawback may have been that he is so interesting to watch, I felt like the air went out of the show when he wasn't on stage.

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