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Hamlet in The Hague

1:58, 9th February 2018

Review by Robert Hugill

Ambroise Thomas’ sprawling grand opera Hamlet, written in 1868 for the Paris Opera, seems a strange choice for Opera2Day, an enterprising chamber opera company based in The Hague, whose repertoire ranges from Baroque opera to music theatre. However, artistic director Serge van Veggel created a remarkably lithe, incisive production

Forget Shakespeare; Thomas’ opera is based on an emended, ‘corrected’ French version of the play. Van Veggel further trimmed the opera to create something urgent and impulsive, worlds away from grand opera luxuriance.

Designs were by Herbert Janse (costumes by Mirjam Peter) but Margo Onnes’ video projections created the real atmosphere, with intense close-ups and remembered scenes projected on the backdrop, taking us into Hamlet’s mind. A process which van Veggel extended by having Hamlet’s words from Shakespeare (in French) as voice over, sometimes combining these with Thomas’ brooding orchestral preludes to strong effect.

The opera was performed by a compact company with soloists doubling roles and singing in the chorus, including Jan Willem Schaafsma as Laërte, and Patrick Pranger and Georgi Sztonajov as grave-diggers. The 16-piece New European Ensemble (conducted by Hernán Schvartzman) accompanied, using arrangements by Daniël Hamburger.

Though none of the cast were bel canto specialists, they sang with a lovely freedom and emotional intensity. Things started with Quirijn de Lang’s Hamlet slumped against his father’s sarcophagus; then, the wedding the feast took place literally on top of the sarcophagus, an apt metaphor. Quirijn de Lang brooded wonderfully: on stage for much of the time he created an intense figure and drew us into his dark emotional world. The touching love duet apart, Hamlet ignores Ophélie. It was Hamlet’s duet with his mother, the powerful if uneven Martina Prins, that stood out. At the end Hamlet was all alone, a bereft figure.

Lucie Chartin’s Ophélie was rather brittle to start, as well she might be; neither Ophélie nor Hamlet seemed to fit in with the boozy hi-jinks at court. During the Mad Scene, Chartin came into her own, singing with disturbing intensity yet engaging in her reminiscences with great charm. In the first part of the opera, Claudius is a rather stock figure. He only comes alive in his solo as he prays, when bass-baritone Martijn Sanders made us believe in the character.

The staging featured a dynamic Players’ scene, and powerful manifestations of the ghost using video, voice (Yavuz Arman İşleker) and actor (Joop Keesmaat). The performance was discreetly amplified providing additional resonance but occasionally over-favouring the orchestra in the balance.

Opera2Day’s new production of Hamlet is on a national tour around The Netherlands until April, culminating in performances at The Hague on 10 and 11 April. www.opera2day.nl

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