I should mention that I haven't seen that many operas. I went to see three of them performed live while in college (La Boheme, Otello, and Tosca), but those are the only others I've ever seen in their entirety. I've seen bits and pieces of various operas on YouTube and so on, but I didn't grow up watching or listening to opera. We listened to a lot of classical music, but not much opera, other than an aria here and there on some compilation CD or other. However, Deborah was raised on opera the way I was raised on westerns, and she is very passionate about it. If you want to know her more opera-oriented thoughts on this, read her post here from when she first watched it a couple years ago.
So anyway, the music for this was written by Ambroise Thomas back in 1868, and the libretto by Michel Carre and Jules Barbier is based not on Shakespeare's text, but on the French adaptation of Shakespeare's play by none other than Alexandre Dumas, pere. (You can read an English translation of Dumas' French adaptation here -- it's quite funny.) So there are some pretty big differences in the story, which is mostly what I'll talk about here.
Spoilers from here on out.
|Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet.|
The biggest difference between this opera and Shakespeare's play is that at the end, (drumroll please) Hamlet is still alive! And is declared king!
Yeah. Whoa. I was pretty shocked. Part of me was so happy that Hamlet (Simon Keenlyside) didn't die, and part of me was like, "But where's my catharsis? Where's my tragedy?" And if you're going, "Dude, how can Hamlet get to be king when he totally just killed King Claudius in front of pretty much everyone in the castle -- they can't reward regicide with the crown!" Well, they fixed that by having the Ghost (Markus Hollop) appear to everyone and declare that Claudius had murdered him, so everyone knows Hamlet is justified in killing Claudius. Also clears up the whole "Is Hamlet just imagining this Ghost?" question -- if everyone's seeing it, he's clearly not mad and delusional and what have you.
|The Ghost condemns Claudius in front of everyone.|
Okay. That's the biggest difference. Also, Gertrude doesn't die. Neither do Polonius or Laertes! But Ophelia (Natalie Dessay) does. She gets to do her mad scene all alone on stage, singing on and on about how she thinks she's married to Hamlet now, and she talks to some imaginary people about how lovely her wedding was and how much Hamlet adores her, and gets crazier and crazier, finally stabbing and cutting herself a few times before collapsing on stage, then getting up and wandering off, presumably to drown her sorrows permanently. She got a HUGE standing ovation, which Dessay totally earned.
|Ophelia singing about flowers.|
Other differences? Laertes (Daniil Shtoda) was completely fine with Ophelia and Hamlet being in love. Instead of warning her not to let Hamlet turn her head before he leaves (this time to go to Norway, not to Paris), Laertes tells Hamlet to take care of Ophelia and says he knows he's leaving her in good hands, they'll take care of each other, etc. I really liked this Laertes so much (up until the end, when I decided I hated him forever because he's a dirty rat). Also, Polonius was barely in it and never gave anybody any advice. Huh.
|Hamlet and Ophelia. Because I couldn't find another place to put this and I love it.|
And Gertrude (Beatrice Uria-Monzon) was totally in on Claudius' plot to kill King Hamlet. Definitely an accomplice. And really freaky looking. She had this wig that made her forehead HUGE and made her look like she was an alien from Star Trek: The Next Generation or something. Weird. She was very conniving, and pretty much drove Ophelia crazy by convincing her Hamlet would marry her, and then when he instead was playing mad and wouldn't have anything to do with Ophelia, yeah, it could only end in tears.
|Gertrude and her wonky wig.|
Horatio (Lluis Sintes) was barely in this, which saddened me. Had no feel of close friendship with Hamlet, seems about as important as Marcellus. In fact, by the end, I'd forgotten which of the dudes in trench coats on stage was Horatio. I was not amused -- that was my absolute least-favorite change from Shakespeare's play. Horatio is extremely important, folks -- I know I like to natter on about Laertes a lot, but honestly, I love Horatio almost as much as Hamlet himself, and without him, poor Hamlet is totally friendless and alone and unhappy and... badness, okay? Much badness.
I'm not going to say much about the music. Some parts were lovely, but nothing stuck in my head. But I wasn't really watching this for the music, so that's okay. Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet and Natalie Dessay as Ophelia were very moving, and I will absolutely watch this again just for them. Keenlyside is one of those rare opera singers who can not only sing beautifully but also act very, very well, and I totally recommend this version because of him. I'm really sad, though, that he sang this role at NYC's Metropolitan Opera while I lived in Connecticut, and I never went to see it. At the time, neither Deborah nor I knew who he was, and I had never seen the opera, didn't know anything about it other than it was a retelling of Hamlet, so I didn't go. Such a mistake. Sigh.
Anyway, what else shall I talk about? Costumes! The costumes were wacky. Most of them. Deborah says that's pretty par for European opera productions. The soldiers and Laertes all wore trench coats with metal breastplates -- huh?
|This is Laertes in one of those trench-coat-and-breastplate ensembles.|
And then there were these gonzo red robe thingies at the beginning. Yeah...
|Gertrude and Claudius and their loyal subjects.|
But. Hamlet looked scrumptious. What else matters? He generally looked like this:
|Looooooooooove those coats.|
But sometimes he looked like this:
|In his trench coat at Ophelia's grave. Also nice.|
|Suspenders! And you can't see it, but also he has bare feet. Swoon.|
So. I wasn't going to add this to my "Hamlet Comparisons" file because it's not Shakespeare's text and so many of the characters are in it less, and things are so different. But I'm going to anyway, just leaving some ungraded because they don't apply. Here's how they stack up:
Laertes: F for making me Furious (B+ for everything except the ending)
Overall Production: N/A because it has so many differences.
I'm really glad I saw it, and if you're somehow tired of watching the same Hamlet performances you've seen before and want something new, absolutely find and watch this.
|Did I mention this Hamlet and Ophelia were very sweet together?|
Is this movie family friendly? As much as any version of Hamlet can be. There's lots of death, accusations of marital unfaithfulness, some mild curse words in the English subtitles, and a pretty creepy ghost. Not for little kids.
|Did I mention the Ghost is creepy? And amazing!|