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Eerie and impressive

'Hamlet' by
Ambroise Thomas -
reviewed by
ROBERT ANDERSON

'... much sensitivity.'

Hamlet - Ambroise Thomas - Bertrand de Billy. © 2004 Fundacio del Gran Teatre del Liceu, under licence to EMI Records Ltd

It matters not a jot that Thomas's librettists dismissed some of the more tiresome characters from Shakespeare's play, kept Polonius alive as fellow-conspirator in the royal murder and so provided vague justification for Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia, and brought the final curtain down on a Hamlet wounded by Laertes but apparently surviving to be king of Denmark with all his neuroses. Contemporary Barcelona makes no attempt to emulate the opulence of the Paris première (we can concentrate the more on Thomas's score) and has rightly ditched the 'Spring Festival' ballet as prelude to Ophelia's madness.

Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Queen Gertrude) and Alain Vernhes (King Claudius) with the Elsinorians in Act 1 of Hamlet. DVD screenshot © Fundacio del Gran Teatre del Liceu
Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Queen Gertrude) and Alain Vernhes (King Claudius) with the Elsinorians in Act 1 of Hamlet. DVD screenshot © Fundacio del Gran Teatre del Liceu

The opera opens with the Elsinorians apparently rejoicing with one accord that Claudius is now king and has at once married his brother's widow [listen -- 'Que nos chants montent jusqu'aux cieux!' (Act 1) -- DVD1 chapter 3, 0:00-1:48]. It must be said that Thomas's Hamlet, though certainly different from Shakespeare's, has enough of his original's qualities to be highly impressive. And Simon Keenlyside makes him as convincing dramatically as he is vocally. A love duet proclaims that all is well between him and the winsome Ophelia of Natalie Dessay [listen -- 'Doute de la lumière' (Act 1) -- DVD1 chapter 5, 0:00-1:56]. The departing Laertes can now reasonably entrust his sister to Hamlet.

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Copyright © 19 October 2005 Robert Anderson, London UK

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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller