-The problem with creating an opera around an iconic character and play, particularly by Shakespeare, is that only the characters remain from the plot. This is confusing for the public and has caused myriad responses to the opera. Expectations are for a literal translation of plot to music which is, of course, not possible. The surprise upon attending the Washington National Opera’s adaptation of “Hamlet,” performing through June 4, was how attractive and well written the music was. The evening, in fact, was full of surprises.
For a while, “to be or not to be” could have been the slogan for the production by French composer Ambroise Thomas — it almost didn’t happen. The part of Hamlet was to be sung by Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez and Ophelia by German soprano Diana Damrau, both of whom had to cancel. We saw the second performance on May 22 wherein Michael Chioldi sang Hamlet and Elizabeth Futral, who had performed in the first performance, had to bow out at intermission and turn over the famous mad scene to Soprano Micaëla Oeste, in her second season with the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.
Michael Chioldi sang a fine Hamlet. Until Elizabeth Futral had to leave at intermission, her singing showed no sign of the difficulties that were bothering her. However, Miss Oeste was definitely a find. She immediately continued the character of Ophelia for at least the 20 minutes of the mad scene with beauty of tone and intense and graceful acting. The audience showed enthusiastic appreciation.
Elizabeth Bishop sang a regal Gertrude with a matching rich sound. Samuel Ramey, an impressive actor performing Claudius, no longer has the voice he once had. I remember the wonderful impression he made when I first heard him. That voice is gone.
Finally, the notion of Stage Director Thaddeus Strassberger to change time and place to a fascistic regime with contemporary costumes distorted the consistency of atmosphere that the production demanded.
My final thought was how good the orchestra sounded under the baton of Placido Domingo. Having observed his conducting for many years, I have watched him grow in his command of the orchestra through the years. Superb.
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