Monday, March 29, 2010

Met Hamlet in HD

The Metroplitan Opera
Live in HD

March 27, 2010

Conductor: Louis Langrée
Ophélie: Marlis Petersen
Gertrude: Jennifer Larmore
Laërte: Toby Spence
Hamlet: Simon Keenlyside
Claudius: James Morris
Ghost: David Pittsinger

Production: Patrice Caurier, Moshe Leiser

I had low expectations for the music of Thomas's Hamlet, but I was curious enough to try to get into the Met's HD Broadcast at the Century San Francisco Centre on Saturday morning. The seating situation is competitive, & even though I got there at 8:40am for the 10am start time, people had been in line since 8. And once people get in, they save seats for their friends, so it can be trickier than it looks to find an untaken seat.

The production is spare & stark, taking place on a mostly empty stage, with 2 enormous walls that glide around for scene changes. The opening immediately prepares us for an inexorable sequence of events, as the chorus, in Edwardian dress, performs a halting, lock-step procession to the front of the stage. The tone of the staging is consistently dark & unforgiving. There is a startling moment in the last scene when the grave digger drives a pick axe into the floor of the stage. It all worked to leave me with a crushing feeling.

Simon Keenlyside gives a complete singing/acting performance & is a compelling, & even dreamy, stage presence. I found him fascinating to watch, even if he was merely walking across the stage. & then sometimes he was moving so fast that the camera missed things, like his destruction of a painting in the closet scene. The rest of the show was also cast from strength, & one got the feeling that everyone was giving 110% for the performance. I especially liked David Pittsinger's big, focused sound as the ghost & Jennifer Larmore's urgent performance as Gertrude. The 2 grave diggers had nicely contrasting bass & tenor voices. It was clear from her first scene that Marlis Petersen was going to sing a lot of high notes fearlessly.

Conductor Louis Langrée made the score sound interesting, & the orchestra played vividly for him. However, I found Thomas's music to be featureless, despite his colorful orchestral writing. I was surprised, though, to hear a saxophone solo during the play scene.

The broadcast intermission began with Renée Fleming interviewing Mr. Keenlyside, fresh from the stage, his face dripping with blood-red wine. He was unexpectedly soft-spoken, & he politely & earnestly discussed the opera's relationship with the play & his approach to performance. Later on Peter Gelb talked about the Met's up-coming productions, such as their new Ring, which he said was currently "being tested in Canada". We also saw a disconcerting publicity photo of tenor Juan Diego Flórez in a nun's habit.


y2k said...

I tried to listen to the broadcast on Sat, but I found it rather dull.

We also saw a disconcerting publicity photo of tenor Juan Diego Flórez in a nun's habit.

That's the publicity shot for Le Comte Ory. I CAN'T wait until March 2011!

You can see a younger Florez in the nun habit in this earlier CD recorded during the 2003 Rossini Festival in Pesaro.

Axel Feldheim said...

Even though it was very well played, Thomas's music for this opera is unexceptional. But I think the production still works because of the consistent tone of the staging & the charisma of Keenlyside's physical performance.

Thanks for the link to Mr. Flórez in drag. I think it disturbs me because he is already rather pretty, so it's somehow not that funny or ribald to see him as a nun. The Met photo has already been noted by Parterre here. I'm sure he'll be wonderful in that opera.