Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Last Staged at the Met in 1897...

...and there's a reason Amboise Thomas's Hamlet hasn't been heard there in 113 years: it's just not a very good opera.

I know. I've seen it, and with a cast that included Thomas Hampson, Ruth Ann Swenson, Judith Forst, and Robert Lloyd. It has three pretty good scenes: Hamlet's mad scene, Ophelia's mad scene, and Hamlet's drinking song. Other than that, forget it; the balance is filler. It's one of those operas, like Faust and Manon, that's best served by being done as excerpts on a concert program.


Henry Holland said...

Did you see the edition where Hamlet and Ophelia are married at the end? From Wikipedia:

Most notably, the original version did not end with the death of Hamlet after his duel with Laertes. Instead, the original version had provided a 'happy ending', where Hamlet did not die and was instead crowned king after the death of Claudius. For Covent Garden, Thomas provided an alternate ending which included the death of Hamlet. Overall, the changes to the original story led to criticism at the time of the opera such as an 1890 quote from the Pall Mall Gazette:

"No one but a barbarian or a Frenchman would have dared to make such a lamentable burlesque of so tragic a theme as Hamlet."

Hahahaha. Isn't the "To be or not to be" scene also about 3 lines long?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Gosh, no, I saw the revised version. Everybody dies. :)

I can't remember how long "to be or not to be" is. I saw the damn opera in 1996 or 97.

Brian said...

Oh, when will you relent on your merciless attack on the wonder that is French grand opera?

What did the French ever do to you? Was it a bad batch of escargot? :-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Gosh, no; la cusine francaise always agrees with me!

And anyway, I only relentlessly attack the boring French grand operas that I've seen and been put to sleep by. I have a long list of French grand operas I have not seen and do not pass judgment on: everything by Meyerbeer (and I REALLY want to see some of those, preferably complete); I've seen no Auber or Halevy. I am with child to see Reyer's Sigurd and anything in the series the ASO is doing.

Lastly, does Faure's Penelope count? I saw a concert version in the 90s and thought it was a wow. I would love to see it staged. I also loveSaint-Saens.

Henry Holland said...

Lisa, was Meyerbeer's L'Africane from 9/88 before your time in SF? It's the year I got in to the art and I was still feeling my way. There's a video of it, it's pretty over the top, which of course is not a negative in my book.

I'm going strictly on recordings but I'd love to see a good production of Massenet's Herodiade, Meyerbeer's Les Hugenots and Saint-Saen's Henry VIII.

Of course, there's Les Troyens, which I've only seen the ghastly LA Opera production from years ago (well sung, though) that had a ballet so bad that people laughed at it. Brad Wilbur's Met Futures page lists it during the 2012-13 season with Susan Graham and Marcello Giordani. Lovely traditional production, might be worth the airfare. Oooohhhh, also a new Parsifal and the classic Dialogues of the Carmelites that season....

I wouldn't think Faure's fabulous opera would be considered a grand opera; too austere musically, I'd say, no big ballet, a small cast. Pigs will fly before it's done in California though. :-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

1988 was sort of between times. I had a short subscription from 1984 to 1987 or so in order to get Ring tickets in '85. I then went to just a few productions before resuming in 1995. So I missed L'Africaine. I should beg, borrow, or steal the video, which has the young Swenson in it.

I saw Herodiade in 1994 and it didn't make much of an impression. I love Troyens, a monument and a masterpiece. Giordani? Oh, sheesh.

Not a fan of Dialogues, alas.