This romantic and rarely performed opera by Ambroise Thomas is now available on DVD in a new production from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. Starring Natalie Dessay and Simon Keenlyside, this Hamlet production is ... more »guaranteed to become the benchmark for all other Hamlets to come on DVD. Dessay creates a monumental performance of Ophelie, culminating in one of the most gripping Mad Scenes of all time ("Partagez-vous mes fleurs?et maintenant ecoutez ma chanson?").« less
GEORGE RANNIE | DENVER, COLORADO United States | 10/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For sometime I've been hearing a lot about Natalie Dessay; however, only owning a few audio recordings with her, I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. After viewing/hearing this performance of Thomas' Hamlet, I see why she is considered one of opera's brightest stars. Her performance as Ophelie is sublime. This role is usually a mere display of coloratura excesses. With Dessay it turns into far more than high notes and vocal runs-she not only sings the role magnificently, she sings it with great dramatic intensity (something that is very rare with the so-called coloratura soprano). I guess she would be called a great "singing actress" in the very best sense of the phrase. Her performance really "moved" me. (The audience that this performance was taped in front of was also impressed with her to a point that they were in a state of delirium from her first aria and by the "Mad Scene" they too had also gone completely "mad".) Simon Kennlyside also gives a riveting performance. Simon's voice, at this point in his career, might be a size too small for Hamlet; however, that is soon forgotten because of the dramatic intensity he brings to the role. He sings poor depressed Hamlet wonderfully. The "confrontation scene" with Uria-monzon (as his mother) is fantastic! I'm sure his voice will "grow" into the role. This production does NOT try to recreate the era; however, it is beautiful to observe-wonderful contrasting colors on a rather bare stage allowing the singers to display their dramatic qualities to the fullest-no this is not "the Bard" but it IS opera at its most exciting! "
Incredible singing, but an uneven opera
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 11/11/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet is one of those operas where some famous excerpts have survived as staples of the concert/recital circuit -- namely, Ophelia's "Mad Scene" and Hamlet's Drinking Song. The full opera was rarely staged. This DVD, filmed in 2003 from the Barcelona Liceu, gives us a hint about why this opera remains a curiosity. It is, first of all, very long (about three hours), and the music is somewhat uneven. "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" and the Mad Scene are justly famous, but Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquoy becomes a rather meandering aria. The opera is an odd mix of ottocento and French grand opera, and much of the sinister humor of the play is gone. Although it's nice to hear works complete I thought this is one opera that could have benefited from some judicious cutting, as it is a VERY long opera. "Hamlet" is well worth getting for lovers of splendid vocalism. The supporting cast is uniformly fine. But Simon Keenlyside and Natalie Dessay (Hamlet and Ophelie) are Stars-with-a-capitol-S. Natalie Dessay started her career as a specialist of high-flying coloratura roles. She then had a vocal crisis, but her career seems to be back on track. Although she no longer sprinkles her performances with high F's and G's, her voice has acquired richness and dramatic coloring over the years, and her Mad Scene can hold its own against any "gold standard" recording, such as Nellie Melba's, or Eide Norena's. Her voice is not to everyone's taste -- it has a Gallic edge, and a touch of iciness. It's more piercing than large. But she's a wonderful, committed actress, and a coloratura soprano who can make even the most mechanical runs sound edge-of-your-seat exciting. Hers is an Ophelia to treasure. Simon Keenlyside besides being great eye candy has a beautiful, smooth, marvelously produced baritone voice. He sings with exquisite legato, never resorting to barking even in the most dramatic moments. Most of all, his performance is very true to Shakespeare -- he makes Hamlet brooding, righteous, sensitive, cruel, unbalanced, yet calculating. The production, although fairly inoffensive, unfortunately makes this sometimes portentious, overly gloomy opera seem even more portentious and gloomy. The lighting is unremittingly dark, the staging is threadbare (mostly a series of moving walls), the costumes nondescript (Simon Keenlyside broods in an overcoat and Stanley Kowalski-like t-shirt, the women wear long dresses, the rest of the costumes are a mix of the antique and modern.) So I give four stars for the splendid singing, but this opera is, let's face it, not a masterpiece, and the production is somewhat disappointing.
Astonishing and Harrowing Operatic Shakespeare
Edward Flaspoehler | Dallas, TX | 05/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This video of Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas is simply brilliant.
Baritone Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet is astonishing. He is a great actor, especially for a singer, and he adapts his light baritone to the dramatic requirements of the opera with intelligence and total conviction. He has a beautiful instrument and uses it well, with lovely shading alongside outbursts of dramatic intensity.
This was the first time I have seen soprano Natalie Dessay in action, although I have heard her several times on disk. She walked through Ophelia's mad scene as if it were a vocal stroll in the park, with shattering results. It was the most harrowing operatic mad scene I have ever seen.
The opera itself, while certainly interesting, is not the best work out there. The libretto, adapted from Shakespeare by Barbier and Carre to the tastes of Paris Opera audiences in 1868, takes some liberties with the Shakespeare plot in the process of getting pared down to a three hour, five act opera, but there is nothing significant enough to worry about. This is, after all, a French Grand Opera and not the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The performance was recorded live at the Gran Theatre del Liceu in Barcelona in October 2003. The resonant ambience of the theater is clearly recorded on this video and adds a sense of live performance to the stereo sound, although from time to time the mikeing on the singers could have been a bit more forward. The pre-performance views of the recently restored Liceu are beautiful, and the audience during the live taping was as enthralled with the proceedings as I was.
The production by Christian Fenouillat, which features curved walls that are starkly lit with strong blues, reds and yellows to express mood and which move around to redefine space, may not be the most visually attractive, but it shows up well on the TV screen as a backdrop to the close ups of the singers. This production has apparently made the rounds in Europe, including London and Dusseldorf, before coming to Barcelona, and is hereby recorded for posterity.
All in all, this recording is about as definitive a performance of Hamlet as there is likely to be on DVD. It is worth watching just for Keenlyside and Dessay."
Mad for Dessay
Ronizetti | Indianapolis, IN United States | 10/17/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As the first reviewer points out, didn't know what all the fuss was about Natalie Dessay from her recordings... UNTIL I saw her live in LUCIA ... I was convinced. She "is" a singing actress, she must be seen and heard.. The mad scene alone is worth the purchase - I'm so pleased to see someone who sings for a reason, not for beauty alone.. She's the real thing, and there's few of them left! A shame she became ill and didn't get the video of "LUCIE" with Alagna.. hopefully there's more to come. BRAVA!"
Dessay - Ophelia of our time!
Ivy Lin | 06/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is really a remarkable recording and mostly owing to breathtaking Ophelia sung by french soprano Natalia Dessay. I had a change to see and hear her live in a operatic recital and she is truly the best coloratura and classical bel canto soprano of our time. She also proves this in the role of Ophelia. The most celebrated mad scene is a real treasure and it really displalys the mastership of Natalia. Her unique sharp and tender voice at the same time combined with the ability to perform all the nuances of mad mind make this scene the highlight of the recording. Bravo Natalia"