Opera Bites: See rarely performed 'Hamlet' in HD

Friday, March 26, 2010
Simon Keenlyside performs in the title role of Ambroise Thomas's "Hamlet" during a rehearsal March 12 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. (Marty Sohl ~ Metropolitan Opera)

After a short break, the high-definition broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera returns with Ambroise Thomas' "Hamlet." The performance begins at noon at the Town Plaza Cinema in Cape Girardeau.

Thomas wrote 13 operas; "Hamlet" was his last important work, and it premiered in 1868. The composer was a quiet man who didn't really enjoy the glittering world of Paris in the 19th century.

The opera, which is sung in French, is based on Shakespeare's play. Act I takes place in Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Hamlet is upset by his mother's marriage to Claudius, her late husband's brother. The young woman Ophelie is in love with Hamlet, and she is unhappy that he may leave the court. Horatio, Hamlet's friend, tells him that a ghost has been seen on the ramparts of the castle and as the act ends the young prince meets the ghost and swears vengeance against Claudius.

Act II begins in the garden of the castle. Ophelie is distressed because Hamlet is indifferent to her. The queen tries to reassure her. When Ophelie leaves, Claudius enters; he is worried that someone will discover he murdered his brother. When Hamlet appears, he announces that he has arranged for a play to be presented to the court, uttering the famous line "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

In Act III, Hamlet is trying to figure out why he did not kill Claudius. When Ophelie appears, he rejects her, which leads to her mad scene in Act IV. This is the most famous part of the opera, and it is a riveting event, especially with French soprano Natalie Dessay singing the part of Ophelie.

Act V begins with the Gravediggers' scene. Hamlet is shocked to learn that Ophelie is dead. He and Laerte are about to duel when her funeral cortege appears. Hamlet then kills Claudius and finally himself.

Simon Keenlyside sings the role of Hamlet, and James Morris is Claudius. This is an opera that is rarely performed, and I am very curious to see it. There is only one more high-def broadcast after this one, Rossini's "Armida" on May 1.

Barb Herbert of Cape Girardeau is an opera lover and host of KRCU's "Sunday Night at the Opera."

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