Hamlet at the Met was presented at Lincoln Center, NY. Shakespeare assigned songs from his plays to servants, fools, and minor characters. Main characters were unlikely to sing unless dressed in disguise or if they possessed altered mental states as with Ophelia in Hamlet. Composers have been setting Shakespeare to music for centuries. Hamlet was not written for dance numbers but for murders but provides ample opportunities for arias. The recent Macbeth version, directed by Sam Gold, added original songs to altered text. A full-length opera of Hamlet is ambitious.
Shakespeare used the trumpet and drums for ceremonial sounds and for significant threats the hoboy, a predecessor of the modern oboe. The snare drum stands out in composer Brett Dean’s pieces in this production. The music is haunting and accented with rainmakers. The production represents labor of five years for Dean.
Performed in two acts, the storyline is maintained. As expected, the Danish King Hamlet dies and his son, Prince Hamlet (Allan Clayton), sees his father’s ghost (John Relyea). The ghost then informs Prince Hamlet of his father’s murderer, revealing that his mother Gertrude’s (Sarah Connolly) new husband Claudius (Rod Gilfry), the King’s brother and Prince’s uncle, is the culprit. The Prince becomes unhinged and rejects his soulmate Ophelia (Brenda Rae). He subsequently performs a play reenacting his father’s death that solicits rage from his uncle, which confirms to the Prince his Uncle’s guilt.
The Prince is summoned by his mother to explain his actions and hears someone. Thinking it is Claudius, he kills Ophelia’s father Polonius (William Burden) by accident. This adds to the decision of Ophelia to take her own life. As the synopsis in the Playbill states, “many deaths ensue.”
What stands out in this production is the white chalk on faces representing those dead, along with lighting and scenes highlighting this aspect. Thus making it ethereal and eerie to watch. Rae’s costume makes her out to be a naked swamp creature, which is jarring and draws you into her mental state as the stage rises to dig graves. You go behind the stage when the players are performing as sets and scenes change seamlessly, creating a dreamscape effect transporting the viewer into the character’s mind of madness.
The Production and Cast
Hamlet – libretto by Matthew Jocelyn
Composer Brett Dean
Conductor Nicholas Carter
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
With Allan Clayton (Hamlet), Rod Gilfry (Claudius), David Butt Phillips (Laertes), Ophelia (Brenda Rae), Polonius (William Burden), David Adam Moore (Horatio), Justin Austin (Marcellus/player), Eve Gigliotti (Gertrude), John Relyea (ghost/gravedigger/player), Daniel Moody (Rosencrantz), Eric Jurenas (Guildenstern), Dylan Morrongiello (Second Player), Manase Latu (player), Chad Shelton (player).
Offstage voices – Monica Dewey, Chanáe Curtis, Tesia Kwarteng, Megan Moore, John Matthew Myers, Christopher Bozeka, Benjamin Sieverding, Wm. Clay Thompson. Accordion Veli Kujala.
Set design by Ralph Myers; Costume designer Alice Babidge; Production Neil Armfield; Lighting designer Jon Clark; Movement director Denni Sayers;
The Metropolitan Opera New Production Saturday, May 21, 2022. 8:00-11:15pm
The Met offers Shakespeare on Demand – Met Opera On Demand, an online streaming service with more than 800 works from past seasons, including Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet. They offer a free seven-day trial to explore the catalog.
The Metropolitan Opera
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
30 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023