Posts Tagged ‘hamlet’

Hamlet (Papa Essiedu), Gravedigger (Ewart James Walters) and assistant (Temi Wilkey)

Leones (Michael Tisdale) accosts Camillo (Eric Hissom)


I have been putting off writing about the plays, concerts, lectures, and dance I’ve been to since coming back from Milan (well I did just once because Friel’s Translations was not to be missed) that they have begun to pile up. So late as it is, I’m here to urge all who read this to see the RSC’s Hamlet with a nearly all black cast. It is touring.

Hamlet with Lorna Brown as Gertrude

Allowing for exaggeration, the reviews have (rightly) said that Essiedu makes the experience what it is (Telegraph (several of the actors were superb, especially Clarence Smith as Claudius, James Cooney as Horatio, Mimi Ndiweni as Ophelia): a new star is born; Washington Post: a rogue outsider artist).

Marvelously comic: Richard Henry the old shepherd and Joshua Thomas the young one

Grace Gonglewski a strong but frightened Paulina (of this tyrant)

But I’d like to qualify that and say its strength is the same as the deeply felt Folger Winter’s Tale, which I saw two weeks ago now: The Folger WT also had some great acting: Michael Tisdale as Leontes, Melissa Graves (an understudy) a poignant dignified Hermione, Eric Hissom, any number of linked characters (Camillo, Antigonus, Storyteller Time). More important: the directors of both productions allowed the actors to do Shakespeare straight on. Both are despite some exhilarating African music and modernized songs and dancing in Bohemia traditional productions.

I can never have too much Shakespeare. By the time we got to the final scene of Hamlet, I felt the awe, the wild exhilaraton, and savage ironies Shakespeare intended me to feel. In the last scene of The Winter’s Tale, I felt a grief akin to what I nowadays feel when I see King Lear. In Lear death is the final blow of a harrowing of cruelty and madness; in The Winter’s Tale, we are awakened to a joy we cannot quite believe as “oh she’s warm” is pronounced. I wish this Winter’s Tale had gone on tour. When they are this good, I often hope to myself that they have filmed it onto a digital device.

The most intellectual and stunningly moving experience was Ivo von Hove’s After the Rehearsal and Persona at the Kennedy Center. Gijs Scholten van Aschan in the Bergman role and in the first play Marieke Heebink as his wife, contemporary partner, an aging actress (alcoholic, depressed) who needs him more than he does her (and he needs her) and Gaite Jansen as the young substitute (possibly pregnant and not sure she wants this life), taking over. In the second Heebink is a mentally shattered woman, with Anne her young nurse: after much manipulation and emotional attacks, the two see themselves in one another.

Somehow the hospital turns into a summer cottage where it seems to be raining continually — rain helps wash away tension

The plays (originally done on TV are about the destructive and therapeutic function of art in a dedicated artist’s life. Hove is superb at Bergman material (like the corrosive effect of growing old) getting his actors to release the vulnerable and angry self. The same actors played the parts in the Barbican; it was in Dutch with surtitles. The stories were not intended to comment on how men use women in the arts, but they do, prophetically.

The sets and stage business was so poignant too: the second ended in both women standing in a large pool of water, together, in simple white shifts, holding hands.


As to concerts, dance, our local small Metro-stage in Alexandria provided a warm delightful presence in Deb Filler, a New Zealander Canadian Jewish storyteller doing all sorts of traditional sons “her way;” in Yiddish as well as English. You haven’t fully enjoyed Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah until you’ve heard Filler sing the song in Yiddish too. Writer, actress, singer, comic, musician, hers is a one woman entertainment, stretched out with some film. She was the third of three women solos this spring at Metrostage (Catherine Flyte (scroll down), Roz White (ditto)).

And to tell the truth, more than the Folger Ovid’s Vineyard. They had a soprano singing from two operas, Phedre et Hippolyte, and Orphee, a man brilliant on the flute, a rich harpsichord and a woman who worked very hard on her violin, but still it was tame except for the unexpected beauty of the melodies of Jean Philippe Rameau’s concert songs for harpsichord. The Folger Concert has not been as inventive this year as previous. Perhaps I should start to go to the pre-performance discussions.

They used the set from the Winter’s Tale

I did go to one dud: the Scottish ensemble and Anderson Dance performing the Goldberg Variations at the Kennedy Center was an in-your-face insult to anyone with sensibility. After the Milanese Goldberg Variations at La Scala as stunning beautiful — graceful, lyrical, interestingly psychological, wonderful group patterns — this group fobbed us off with comic grotesquerie and awkward individual non-dances. If I had been on the aisle, and hadn’t gone to trouble to see it, and hadn’t kept hoping at some point there’d be dancing, I’d have left after the first ten minutes.

A Smithsonian lecture on art

Cezanne’s Boy in a Red Vest

Although I’ve not gotten to the exhibit at the National Gallery, I did go to a long full lecture (many good slides) at the Smithsonian on the Cezanne portraits. I bought the ticket and went to the Hirschorn in the hope I would be taught why I should like Cezanne’s art. I don’t: it seems so inert. Roger Fry loved it, and I’ve friends who say they do too. To me Cezanne’s paintings seem made up of empty abstract forms, even if “monumental,” and he leaves me cold; the portraits often lack faces. While curator told of interesting relationships between Cezanne and his sitters, and said there were several versions of a given portrait at this exhibit so you could study the differenes, she never answered the objections of several reviews of the show, e.g., one in the Washington Post by Sebastian Smee, and three very respectful questioners in the (crowded) audience. Madame Cezanne as painted by Cezanne has been vilified for not smiling (women are supposed to be joyfully compliant at all times). Smee omits that Cezanne was the son of a very rich man who supported Cezanne all his life, so his choice to paint peasants — and to live with one and mistreat her for many years (she was left isolated) before finally marrying her has a certain hypocrisy.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Arm Chair

The curator offered the idea these are iconoclastic portraits, modern, refusing to satisfy us or glorify the sitter. Well in the Cezanne cases (unlike the same thing seen in Vanessa Bell’s portraits) these are not rich customers buying a pre-photographic portrait to glorify themselves. I become irritated when people complain about Cassandra Austen’s second portrait of Jane Austen where Jane is not facing us. She has the right to look away; it’s a trope of reverie in the period — you can find the same pose in front of novels. But when Jane was facing Cassandra, Cassandra drew her face. A friend on my WomenWriters@groups.io list wrote she had read that the faceless portraits reflected how humans/individuals are unknowable. We can think of Woolf’s de-centered novel Jacob’s Room, where similarly, we never get a clear picture of Jacob; it was said Woolf was inspired by Vanessa’s painting at the time, in particular her faceless portraits.

A detail of one of Vanessa’s paintings of her sister, Virginia

Must not leave out new TV & Internet films

I’ve left for last and now just briefly the fascinating four part adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End by Kenneth Lonergan. Sometimes nowadays TV offers us far richer experiences in film, music and art than what is found in physical theaters. I don’t think this production was that superb but when compared to the Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala (see Samanthan Ellis’s ironic take) and it is quite different from the original book; still, it was thought-provoking with its own new genuine feeling, intelligent, meaningful.  Who would not feel for Leonard Bast after this one?.

Phillipa Coulthard as the cultured assured Helen and Joseph Quinn as the aspiring Leonard Bast

I then re-watched the 1993 film (on a DVD with two hours of features about Merchant-Ivory) and it was subtler, more nuanced, more sheer content somehow, with Margaret inexplicably actually falling in love with Mr Wilcox while the 2018 film makes this central relationship seem far more performative and self-interested,

but the more recent film is more deeply empathetic towards the failing Leonard Bast, and makes explicit how these privileged wealthy people live off the undercompensated labor of others. I hope to write separately and with more detail than I have here when this summer on TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io we read the book together. I bring the new version up here to mourn that it did not appear on PBS (which sticks to inferior mysteries and thinner contemporary books and stories) but Starz (a high tier channel and too expensive for many people). I am watching the second season of Handmaid’s Tale but will hold off any comment until I’ve reached the end.

A paradox: Izzy came with me to the Hamlet and Winter’s Tale, to the Metrostage; a friend, Panorea to the Folger but I’ve felt least alone watching Howard’s End and now Handmaid’s Tale because of my friends on my three lists at groups.io. There we had ongoing good conversation and look forward to reading Forster as our summer project. They revived the foremother poets postings on Fridays on Wom-po (a women poets list)! Reader, I am working on a woman artists blog on Vanessa Bell too: Frances Spalding’s biography and Richard Shone’s art criticism (on Duncan Grant and Roger Fry also)

I hope no one takes any of my blogs as here to give the impression I am living a good life, surrounded by friends or whatever is the going ideal norm for existence for a woman like me. It is far too late for me to come near a fulfilling existence for myself now, if it ever were in the cards. I was exhausted last night, falling asleep in front of a movie, couldn’t read Virginia Woolf’s A Sketch of the Past (her memoir printed in Moments of Being), so I reached out to others with material I thought might find acceptance and be of interest to those who come to this blog. Add something that might cheer or help others and that might prompt them to write back in a similar spirit.


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Michael Benz was a superlative Hamlet — within the limits of the kind of acting used

Dear friends and readers,

Jim and went out last night to see the London Globe company act Hamlet at our Folger Shakespeare Library. Like last time (8 summers ago now, in the Globe Theater itself in London where we were groundlings), the company’s way of doing the plays left me cold. They again enacted actors acting the parts. For me the result is too stylized.

The dress this time reminded me of the way people costume the rude mechanicals in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and before the play started two actors, one playing Polonius (Christopher Saul) and one Claudius (Dickon Tyrell, a superbly effective presence even in stylized patterns), mingled with the audience. They were people like us you see, their costumes not so different from ours. The era imitated was 1940s mostly, with Miranda Foster having her hair in a snood, buns on top of her head, seamed stockings, 1940s pump shows. One problem was, why 1940s? This choice of era was not addressed. Like the Shenandoah play, the company do it in the light. Minimal props. I loved all this in a way. And I can’t really complain that they depend wholly on the lines spoken beautifully in a talk way. That means you’ve got to listen — and you appreciate the words both how they still speak to us and how they are Elizabethan in feel, outlook, nuance. But during the intermission I heard people talking about how hard it was for them to keep up, to follow. Those who had read the play rejoiced. I’ve read it many times so I could follow. I loved the folk dancing before and aft. They do get across the comic moments of Shakespeare’s even most pessimistic of plays.

A couple of the younger actors were weak. There were but 8 of them, lots of thoughtful doubling. Tom Lawrence most notably as Horatio stood out as somehow embodying a quintessential English Renaissance player look. The actors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern came in with sheepish comic looks, carrying suitcases, tennis rackets, vacation stuff. The whole feel alluded to Stoppard’s play — so the aesthetic control could be broken to allude to another art world.

But finally I prefer modern psychological enactment because I was not moved until near the end. The acting keeps me at a distance: the pace is too quick, and the gestures somehow slightly frozen, graceful in frenetism would be the way I’d characterize the Hamlet-Gertrude hard encounter. The American Shakespeare Company players (formerly Shenandoah express) do their plays using modern psychological mimesis with direct connections to our lives and norms today. I also much preferred the more abridged Hamlet we saw this summer: this Globe version was shortened too, lines sweated, here and there a speech omitted).

Go see it as an attempt to bridge the past into the present.

For a list of the company, director and notes, see Globe on Tour with Hamlet (they come to the Folger).


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Karen Lange reading entries aloud (Pinky Swear)

Dear friends and readers,

We’ve seen four more productions, and, as might be expected, since we are going to twice as many this year as we went to last (Izzy is going with us but 3 times and last time she went to nearly all), we did at last find ourselves at a real dud. But we’ve also had two memorable, so alive, stirring, and very contemporary experiences.

Pinky Swear is an all girls’ band, raunchy, angry, sexy; they are “in your face” in the way they apparently break all sexual taboos. They don’t quite break all, but they break several: dildos abound; they get into quarrels, they insult one another, are sarky, their songs range from a desire to fuck or be fucked, to grating irritation with the nature of life, to (sometimes) romantic longing and muted heartbreak. Masturbation is the way to go as you can do it anytime. If you can’t have the one you love, love the one you’re with was this year’s theme.

All four: Karen in the back, next to her Allyson Harkey the guitarist Christina Frank, and with the black tambourine Toni Rae Brotons

Last night (Thursday), there were three young men with them as support band, and sometimes they played music from the 60s and 70s; while I enjoyed these (they were written before the performers were born), I thought the electrifying moments came from the contemporary music, the stances the girls took.

The witty and wry Karen Lange who read aloud slips of paper on which members of the audience were asked to write the “weirdest place they had sex.” The weird experiences were not that transgressive, or odd or wild. One read loud: “We had sex under a bush in Central Park. The gravel underneath was a problem.” That prompted jokes about what positions the gravel would make most uncomfortable. Then there was a second on having sex in Central Park, and Karen remarked Central Park must be a busy place at night. The singers said they were going to put some of these on face-book, but I could not find any. An informative pdf. They were in the large (but un-air-conditioned) Baldacchino Gypsy Tent next to one of the central bars and meeting places of the Fringe.

Since the tent is across the street from the (famed) restaurant, poets-reading and performing theater space, Busboys and Poets, Jim and I went there for our dinner afterward. I had a pizza, scotch and ginger ale, and Jim had beer and burger and fries. The night was hot, but there was a breeze, and we sat outside under an awning near a working fan and were happy.


Tonight (Friday) we saw a spectacularly well-acted Hamlet. Powerful, fast-moving sizzling performances, especially by 1) Christ Genebach who was Hamlet and his father’s ghost, and the player king: he was just magnificent; his face and gestures reminded me again and again of Ralph Fiennes; and 2) Sandy Gainum as Gertrude and the Gravedigger, she probably was directed to be this sentimental and shocked Gertrude when Hamlet comes to her in her bed to tell her not to go to bed with Claudius, but otherwise she was sharp, gesturing and face just right, ever on the move. Raven Bonniwell did another unlikely doubling of Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Osric and was particularly good in the first two. As Laertes Billy Finn was violent emotionally as well as physically. The final duel is not with swords, but fists and the two men murder one another with blunt knives.

Directed by Hannah Todd, it was said to be much shorter than the original, abridged. And it ran only 1 hour and 40 minutes, but that is not just one hour (as most of the events are) and a lot was included. Horatio was the only major character cut; they chose to sweat lines rather than cut whole soliloquies. The director’s notes said she saw the play as a violent one, an outcropping of Hamlet’s feverish imagination, trapped by his own fantasies. The play began with Hamlet half-dreaming on the floor and ended with him dead in the same posture. He and all the players were driven people. I felt we really experienced the play. There was no intermission and that helped sustain the move.

Chris Genebach as Hamlet

Everyone clapped hard, and people stood for the performers whose lines had come so swiftly and naturally (it seemed) off their tongues. The company calls themselves the Flashpoint theater and their specialty is similarly abridged classics. Lauren Katz also thought it one of the strongest productions of Hamlet she’d seen in a while.


You can’t win ’em all. Wednesday night we went to a musical based on the life of Helena Rubinstein in America, Madame it was called. The performers had worked very hard, the costumes were lovely, the choreography was well-worked out; the problem was the content of the lyrics and “book” and story line. Excruciatingly lame, sentimental where they should have been prosaic, including even a love duet which belonged to Carousel, and a major male role going to an actor who was wooden and couldn’t sing.

Apparently the management of the whole festival is aware of which shows are not likely to please or lure an audience, as this one was held in small basement room of a church, there were few chairs, and even these were not filled up. To be fair, here’s a reviewer who saw some good things in the show and tries to like it

Two of the actor-singers rehearsing


Not as tedious (we stayed at Madame because we felt we’d hurt the actors-singers’ feelings), but their musical rock show nowhere as good as last year (Finn McCool) and last year not as good as the spectacular brilliance of the year before (Oreisteia), Dizzy Miss Lizzy Doing the Brontes was something of a disappointment. The idea of each rock show has been the same: interweave some story or intense anguish or misery with the upbeat of hard rock. This time it was the Brontes and I’ll give it to them, they didn’t pollyanna the story of these four finally unlucky geniuses. The frustrated outcast Branwell became an alcoholic; Anne died so young; Emily unable to integrate at all into any social life and dying fairly young; and Charlotte left alone, also unable to build a life of fulfillment with people gifted like herself, also dying, of a miscarriage; their isolated lives as children on the moors.

Narrator, Branwell and accompaniment

Izzy came with us and I can’t better her commentary.

It’s true that Jim and I probably didn’t get all the jokes because we didn’t recognize some of the pop references. It’s hard for me to believe I was the only person in that tent besides the performers who had heard of Anne Bronte — does no one watch PBS movies? there was a splendid Tenant of Wildfell Hall, with real stars in the leading roles, and on most of the listservs I’ve been on, admittedly literary ones, people have read this and/or Agnes Grey (a governess story). I was the only person to clap and call Yay! when “Anne Bronte” came forward and told us the titles of her novels. A woman sitting next to me told me she had never heard of Branwell Bronte, so I recommended Daphne DuMaurier’s powerfully passionate The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte, which reprints what is left of his poetry. Considering the lamentable state of ignorance then about the Brontes, I suppose it’s picky of me to complain Dizzy Miss Lizzy did not seem to know that Emily was a great poet, but still I wish they had known it. Some of her verses set to rock might have stirred the audience.


Redbreast, early in the morning
Dank and cold and cloudy grey,
Wildly tender is thy music
Chasing angry thoughts away.

My heart is not enraptured now,
My eyes are full of tears,
And constant sorrow on my brow
Has done the work of years.

It was not hope that wrecked at once
The spirit’s calm in storm
But a long life of solitude,
Hopes quenched and rising thoughts subdued,
A bleak November’s calm.

What woke it then? A little child
Strayed from its father’s cottage door,
And in the hour of moonlight wild
Laid lonely on the desert moor.

I heart it then, you heard it too,
And seraph sweet it sang to you;
But like a shriek of misery
That wild, wild music wailed to me.

I go out to plays, to operas, see movies, look at pictures, listen to music, even walk in landscapes for the same causes I read. These experiences are meaningful to me, speak to me at some level that counts, help me endure. Funnily of these four, the one I came away with repeating an idea the artists had voiced was Pinky Swear. Karen had a song whose refrain was you end where you start out, find yourself what you were. That’s my case. Soon I shall be driven to retire (they are beginning to harass me at GMU because they want me to turn my English humanities into a business computer-based course and I cannot) and I find I end where I began.

Just being me, living alongside Jim, and the real irony is what I love after the few human beings who I am attached to and whom I hope are attached to me are books precisely those I started out with (Austen among them) and a set of 18th century historical romances, whose hero and heroine were norms for me in my conscious teenagehood: the Poldark series.

It’s not that Hamlet does not have much to say. But I’ve read and seen the play so many times it’s hard to have a fresh reaction. Maybe I did tonight. When Hamlet took Yorick’s skull, and said to his imaginary lady, to this you will come, I identified. I’ve few teeth, bad feet, my lower back hurts, my hair grey, my handwriting is terrible (when I go to make a letter it’s hard to make it come out clearly and often I will write another letter or number than the one I consciously intend), I’ve forgotten multiplication tables (and never could do percentages, fractions, long division), I can’t read late into the night or watch movies without napping, when I get on the Metro people actually immediately get up to give me a seat. Yes to that I am coming.

Do people know Sylvia Plath also drew? yes, lovely touching drawings of everyday things, houses, street scenes. Here’s a pair of shoes I can no longer wear except for a few minutes at a time unless the miracle of really soft leather is achieved.

Sylvia Plath, Large Size Shoes (maybe she thought she had “big feet”)


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Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet in Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet at the Met

Dear friends and readers,

A profoundly moving and effective theatrical experience has been made out of Ambrose Thomas’s later 19th century French opera, Hamlet, itself as a script a concise free adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play. In its concision it reminds me of Verdi’s Otello: both eliminate characters, incidents and simplify the plot-design and some of the characters.

Unfortunately, the Met is not generous with stills or photos of its casts, so I am unable to present one of the more touching or remarkably acted moments by Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet in the new production of Ambroise Thomas’s opera of the same name which the admiral, Izzy and I saw today at our local HD moviehouse. Nor can I offer a photo of one of the spectacle like scenes as staged by Patrice Courier and Moishe Leiser. So you are just going to have to take my word for this and accept the few promotional stills I found online.

The opera as staged: it is not Shakespeare’s Hamlet at all. Hardly any Shakespeare phrases make it over into the opera. “Etre or ne pas etre” is a rare example, and after that the rest of the soliloquy vanishes but for the phrases about fear of what’s to come, and a desire for oblivion. The hard stuff about how if you desire to live, you have to cope with human politics, nastiness and so on is all omitted. Shakespeare’s Gertrude is a complicit woman indifferent to most things but her convenience, and she wishes Hamlet would just accept what’s happened (“Death is common … why seems it so particular with thee?”); Thomas’s is a sentimentally conceived remorseful, guilty woman coerced by Claudius. Horatio and Polonius (who is an accomplice in Thomas’s play) have hardly anything to do. There’s no “Absent there from felicity for a while” (one of my favorite lines) nor “the rest is silence.” Ophelia goes mad simply for love of Hamlet who has rejected her — it’s a lot more enigmatic and variously motivated in Shakespeare. The women depicted are turned into objects men see, only as they relate to them: a girl goes mad for love of one, a mother driven wild for guilt towards another. In Shakespeare they are presences in their own right that do not yield their own burden of existence. And so it goes.

From the little talk we had with our neighbors (there was some, this is a friendly relaxed group), I discovered hardly anyone knew Shakespeare’s play except in vague general outlines. I knew I was in no Joe Papp public theater crowd, but was somewhat surprised to see how little recognition the people around me had when I mentioned this or that phrase or character as Shakespeare wrote the play. So to the crowd these losses were nothing for real. The conductor, Louis Langree when interviewed by Renee Fleming said the original opera had an ending where Hamlet lived on and became king! It was dropped said he, for fear of “Anglo-Saxon displeasure.” In the 18th century Lear ended happily, but this was 19th century. For my part had Hamlet not died, the play would lose so much of its meaning (in Shakespeare Fortinbras takes over showing how little has been learned or will change), and its final effect depends on having at least three bodies on stage: Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius. It was not at all denounced (as one review feared); the audience didn’t know the original play sufficiently. And around us they did enjoy what they saw, very much.

Nonetheless, the production partakes of some of the depth of Shakespeare’s portraits, his adult perception of the painfulness of each individual’s experience of other people which is conveyed more than anyone by the domination throughout of by Keenlyside’s subtle nuanced acting. In an interview in the intermission with Renee Fleming (a marvelous hostess), Keenlyside said it’s a text-driven opera. The story, sentiments, characters are what makes it. He has a strong British or London accent and said he doesn’t read music well. Since he did not have to tell us this, this presentation of himself is part of a persona of some sort, and he sure seems to get all the tones right and speaks an elegance of tone and eloquently intelligent glance amid a well-acted deep confusion and distress.

Keenlyside made the opera (as the actor who plays Shakespeare’s Hamlet makes or breaks the play); he was so perfect for the role physically, perhaps because he’s near 50, with all the gravitas of such an age in his skin (yet looks younger), that for me this could be my image of Hamlet from now on. Marlis Peterson as Ophelia manages to be lyrical, to shake her body traumatically as she goes mad carrying wild flowers about. James Morris is a quietly believable conscience-ridden Claudius. There were so many revealing close-ups of their faces working, and from striking angles.

The production also contains several of Shakespeare’s finest scenes, e.g., the play within the play does as half-camp pantomime, Claudius’s prayer and Hamlet not killing him, Hamlet berating his mother, the graveyard setting. And it has new brilliant scenes implied by Shakespeare too, e.g., a long mad scene, very hard to do as not probable, by Marlis Peterson; scenes where blood is used prominently to the point of soaking, so that Hamlet pours it all over himself after the play within the play is over and while he stands on the banquet table; Ophelia too releases blood all over herself from her handy knife so she too is suffused with blood by the time she dies.

Marlis Peterson as Ophelia shuddering with thwarted desire

As Gertrude, Jennifer Larmore was directed to be an exaggeratedly near-hysterical adulterous; Hamlet’s ghost father is a statuesque powder-white and goes round in a wrapped sheet holding a sword. The first ghost scene as the three men look out at the audience just before the ghost walks on is among the opera’s most compelling moments.

The music is not great. There are no tunes or strains that bowl you over with their beauty nor are any endlessly echoing in your ears afterwards, memorable. It is beatifully sung, lovely in the mad scene of Ophelia, anguished for Hamlet, melancholy for Claudius. The admiral (Jim) said it was a vehicle for a baritone, with one aria (the mad scene) for the coloratura soprano.

This may be paradoxical to say: while it was an work which communicated through spectacle, it was also beautifully simple in the setting. The spectacle was in the actors’ performance, the costumes, gestures, interaction of bodies, simple archetypal props and costumes. The set was just a back wall behind which the actors came and went. I loved this. I do find man of the fussy sets so tawdy and they don’t persuade me at all. It has to be superlatively well done and (yes) have a simplicity about it before I can suspend my disbelief.

I found myself near tears in the scene just after the grave-diggers leave the stage and Hamlet has not yet realized the newly-dug hole is for a dead Ophelia. He has a worn grey great-coat on, worn white T-shirt, his face weary, lined as he sings of his sense of isolation and despair, reaching out for he knows not what. The next scene is Laertes’s return, and after that the body and funeral and Hamlet’s ghost-father demanding Hamlet act, which he just manages to do.

Near end

It’s in this gap of time, the quiet singing stasis just before the final crash and ritual pageant reasserts itself, the experience hits the tragic nadir and deep exhilaration as we feel this treasured presence with all his gifts struggle intensely, and in that struggle give us the sense of something precious one could have known lost for ever. Not pity and the wildly sardonic close of Shakespeare, but rather uplift through empathetic admiration. He is so relieved to go (one of the substitute lines makes him long for oblivion)

If you didn’t see it this time round, don’t miss it next year, partly because only an actor of the calibre of feeling of Seenlyside (reminding me of Hans Matheson in Zhivago) can pull it off. This Hamlet and the now 40 year old Rosencavalier (with Renee Fleming) were the two expansive experiences this year at the HD Met opera.

There was an appearance of the general manager taken in the caravan behind the Met theatre. He had in back of him a bank of TV screens. He is there as they operate these long-distance close-up cameras. He expressed joy at the huge number of people reached this year, and told of how next year there will be 11 HD operas broadcast around the earth, with 5 new productions. Again for my part I love these movie versions; I get much more out of them. I recognize the singers now. They must and will change the way these things are directed (are doing so even now) and eventually influence who gets to sing as it’s natural to want performers who look the parts.


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