Monday, May 4, 2015

All is not well in Denmark

On my second night at the Fort Worth Opera Festival, I saw Thaddeus Strassberger's new production of Hamlet, that neglected 1868 opera by Ambroise Thomas to a libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier, based on the Shakespeare play. In keeping with Opera Comique tradition and requirement for a happy ending, the original version concluded with Hamlet being crowned king instead of being killed, but it didn't take long for a version true to the original Shakespeare to emerge. Fort Worth presented the later version.

Talise Trevigne and Wes Mason
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
The singing in this production is beyond compare. Wes Mason was a Hamlet not to be trifled with. Commanding and yet brooding in appearance, fully committed to Hamlet's heartbreak and rage, and able to convey all the heightened emotion with highly skilled singing that one wished would never end. His tone is even and free throughout, beautiful to hear, with an easy high voice that suits Hamlet's music very well. The drinking song "Ô vin, dissipe la tristesse" and the monologue "Être, ou ne pas être", two highly contrasting scenes, were both beautiful and passionate, and Mr. Mason's commitment to the text and character were abundantly clear.

Talise Travigne, who has graced these pages before, sang and acted a stunning Ophelia. She was vocally dazzling from beginning to end—high notes, agility, tone quality and evenness of scale were exceptional. Her acting was believable as she experienced Ophelia's turbulent and conflicting emotions. The mad scene was a feat of singing and acting that will long live in this reporter's memory.

The Gertrude of Robynne Redmon and the Claudius of Kim Josephson were also a treat. Mr. Josephson was every bit the pompous but guilt-ridden king. The scene in which he expresses overwhelming remorse for his heinous acts, and begs his brother's soul to intercede for him with God, was very moving. Ms. Redmon was excellent as Gertrude, who sees how her acts result in her son's anguish and yet is terrified that the crime will be discovered.

Fort Worth Opera Music Director Joe Illick and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra deserve high praise for their performance. Sensitive phrasing, cohesive ensemble playing, and warm, lush sound are the impressions this reporter takes from the performance. Chorus Master Stephen Dubberly and his chorus deserve high praise as well.

The setting was updated to some indistinct, crumbling Cold War era city, and the date appeared to be about 1960. I've written before that I don't like updated opera settings. The usual intention is to clarify social roles and power structures, but I've rarely seen that happen successfully. Usually the update offers more distraction than illumination. This production of Hamlet has not changed my feelings on the matter, for distraction there was in abundance: Why were those peasants huddling in the periphery? Why so many uniformed guards with guns? Why was Ophelia wearing heels instead of flats on a picnic? Did I learn more about any of the characters or their relationships from the pretty costumes by Mary Traylor or the sets of Mr. Strassberger? I'm afraid not.

There is one more performance of Hamlet, on May 10. For the singing I highly recommend seeing it.

No comments: