Spain Thomas, Hamlet (concert version): Liceu Chorus and Orchestra / Daniel Oren (conductor), Gran Theatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 7.3.2019. (JMI)
Hamlet – Carlos Álvarez
Ophélie – Diana Damrau
Gertrude – Eve-Maud Hubeaux
Claudius – Nicolas Testé
Laërte – Celso Albelo
Ghost of Hamlet’s Father – Ivo Stanchev
Polonius – Rubén Amoretti
Horatio – Enric Martínez-Castignani
Marcellus – Albert Casals
First Gravedigger – Carlos Daza
Second Gravedigger – Josep Fadó
This Ambroise Thomas opera had its premiere in 1868 in Paris and was very well received. The work remained popular for some years, but then it fell almost into oblivion in the twentieth century and is quite a rarity today.
The same thing happened in Barcelona where it premiered in 1882 and was a success – there were some 96 performances. It was last done here in 2003, with Simon Keenlyside and Nathalie Dessay under the direction of Bertrand de Billy. I was not able to see it on that occasion, and my only theatrical experience with the work was the performance in Toulouse in 2000 with Nathalie Dessay and the young Ludovic Tézier, who alternated with Thomas Hampson in the leading role.
The opera is somewhat irregular in musical terms: there are pages of great brilliance for both soprano and baritone but also some remarkable ups and downs. It benefits from a complete staging, not only because of the ballet but also due to the story itself: the scenes with the ghost, the theatrical performance of Gonzaga’s murder and the final scene in the cemetery fare less well in a concert version.
Daniel Oren appeared to be conducting this opera for the first time in his long career. His reading was good although his lack of familiarity with the work was noticeable: he spent the evening with his head almost inside the score. His tempi were rather slow which made the opera very long. He did draw fine performances from both the orchestra and the chorus.
It is clear that this opera should not be offered without two exceptional protagonists in the characters of Hamlet and Ophélie. So it was on the previous occasion in this theater, and so it was again now.
The role of Hamlet was played by baritone Carlos Álvarez. Hamlet has a lot to sing, and it takes a major vocalist to give life to the character (although it is often the soprano who has the greatest triumph). Carlos Álvarez was in wonderful vocal shape here, and I found his performance to be the best of the cast. His voice remains beautiful and powerful, and he sang with great expressiveness.
The part of Ophélie is difficult, and it takes an important light soprano to face all the difficulties of her mad scene in Act IV. Diana Damrau gave an outstanding performance and was enthusiastically cheered by the audience. If I am not mistaken, it was her debut in the role, and she will be singing it again in a few months in Berlin, also in a concert version.
A pleasant surprise of the concert came from mezzo-soprano Eve-Maud Hubeaux in the role of Queen Gertrude. She displayed an attractive, well-handled voice and sang with great intention. I had seen her here last July as the protagonist in La favorite, and I much preferred her performance this time.
French bass Nicolas Testé gave life to Claudius and he did well, but he is more a bass-baritone than a pure bass. The presence of noted tenor Celso Albelo in the part of Laërte was surprising since the character is really a comprimario with very little to sing.
The secondary characters were well covered. Ivo Stanchev did nicely as the ghost, and Ruben Amoretti was a well-suited Polonius, the father of Ophélie and accomplice of Claudius in the murder of the late king. Enrique Martínez Castignani and Albert Casals were fine in the roles of Horatio and Marcellus, and the two gravediggers were played by a remarkable Carlos Daza and a correct Josep Fadó.
José M. Irurzun