Natalie Dessay “I love the courage and emotion in her singing

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Mar 17, 2010 · Melancholy Hamlet returns to Met ... Hamlet - "Pâle et blonde" (scene - part 2 ... including Simon Keenlyside in the title role and Natalie Dessay as ...

For sometime I've been hearing a lot about Natalie Dessay; however, only owning a few audio recordings with her, I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. After viewing/hearing this performance of Thomas' Hamlet, I see why ...

Despite all the scorn, Thomas’s “Hamlet” has survived. It chalked up a respectable 326 performances at the Paris Opéra between 1868 and 1914, and before that had been seen in virtually every major operatic center from St. Petersburg to Buenos Aires. The opera slid from view for a while, then turned up again in the 1970s, as audiences sought forgotten former hits, and star baritones realized that they were missing out on a juicy role. A partial list of recent operatic Hamlets includes Sherrill Milnes, Thomas Allen, Thomas Hampson and Bo Skovhus. The Met’s current melancholy Dane, Simon Keenlyside, has been performing in this well-traveled production by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser since its 1996 debut in Geneva, with stopovers in London and Barcelona (where it was filmed for DVD release in 2003).

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TV Director Brian Large's skillful orchestration of the close-up camerawork kept Keenlyside's facial expressions at the center of attention for much of the production, and adorned Petersen's every movement during the Mad Scene (even the gratuitous carving of her breast and wrists).

In a nice touch visible perhaps only to the HD Simulcast audiences around the world, the cameras captured (with the help of Lighting Director Christophe Forey) the spooky image of the little hairs standing on-end alongside Pittsinger's right arm as the Ghost clutched Hamlet's neck and commanded him to "Kill Claudius before he can repent." There was a serious omission, however, as the cameras failed to show one of the most dramatic moments in the opera: Hamlet's snatching of the crown from Claudius' head ("Down with the lying mask! Down with the empty crown!").

Conductor Louis Langrée crafted a faithful interpretation of Thomas' score that honored the composer's wishes to keep the orchestra parked behind the singers, and his direction of the opening instrumental prelude crafted a dramatically potent foreshadowing of Hamlet's torment that was to come.

Thomas saved some of his best writing for the instrumental preludes and entr'actes that precede each of the five acts, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (after some initial intonation problems between the high and low brass sections during the first-act Prelude) was outstanding during throughout the performance. The trombone section tutti unison passage that opens the third-act Entr'acte was exquisitely played, as were several individual efforts — such as the exquisite clarinet solo that opens the fourth-act, the smooth tenor trombone solo during the first-act Scene at the Ramparts, and the alto saxophone solo that signals the beginning of the Pantomime in Act 2.

A well-prepared and buoyant Metropolitan Opera Chorus sang its four-part harmony in celebration of Claudius' marriage to the Queen (Le deuil fait aux chants joyeux) with assurance and poise and good balance among vocal parts, and successfully navigated the tricky a cappella section in the Banquet Scene.

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Making his Met debut in this production, Toby Spence as Laërte sang the role of Ophelia's protective brother with a warm, pleasant tone and solid vocal presence, although the young tenor's abrupt and clumsy transition from recitative to cavatina in the first-act Pour mon pays, en serviteur fidèle suggests he would do well to engage the services of a good coach. Still, Spence's fifth-act Scene and Recitative, where he challenges Hamlet to a duel over his sister's suicide, was suitably hotheaded and confrontational — a mood quickly destroyed by the staging of the duel itself: a lame, anti-climactic non-event that took all of three seconds, ending (remarkably) in the mortal wounding of both men.

Among the smaller roles, David Pittsinger as the barefooted Ghost of the murdered king dominated the stage during his brief but memorable entrances. "Kill Claudius before he can repent," he urges Hamlet in a soberly-delivered chant, made even the more chilling through its pervasive use of monotone (perhaps Thomas believed that ghosts have limited tessituras). Also commanding attention was Richard Bernstein, the first gravedigger, whose booming bass and gesticulations lent credence to his character's fatalist declarations on the subject of death and mortality. Bernstein, whom you may remember as Pietro in the Met's recent production of Simon Boccanegra, is deserving of larger roles in future productions.

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Just about every other aspect of the evening earns high praise, starting with Simon Keenlyside, whose portrayal of the Danish prince is something that straight actors could learn from. He really looks the part, scruffily dressed in an overcoat while the others are richly attired in fashions from roughly Thomas’s period (costumes by Christophe Forey). His Hamlet is intensely physical, whether curling himself up in proximity to Ophelia or stomping on the banquet table when all hell breaks loose following the play-within-the-play that Hamlet orchestrates to smoke out his stepfather Claudius’s guilt. And Hamlet’s music sounds as though it could have been written for his handsome baritone voice, which has ideal weight for the music. Keenlyside’s phrases in the melodic duet with Ophelia, Doute de la lumière emerge with succulent beauty and his fine French helps to keep the declamatory writing lively elsewhere.

If you're curious as to why it has taken the Metropolitan Opera 113 years to re-stage Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet, you'll need to look no further than the music.

Certainly, the mostly-attractive (if not lengthy) musical score has its moments. The love duet between Hamlet and Ophelia, the remarkable septet at the end of the second act and the celebrated coloratura passages in the famous "Mad Scene" can hold its own with the best that Verdi has to offer — as can Thomas' handsomely orchestrated preludes and entr'acts. It's just that there aren't enough such "moments" to sustain the level of intensity that pervades the drama. Over the course of this three-hour and 20-minute opera, Thomas' musical score earns its 15 minutes of fame, but little more. Do the math...

Hamlet is a grand opera in five acts of 1868 by the French composer ..

(Hamlet); Natalie Dessay (Ophélie); Béatrice Uria ..

Hamlet is making its return to the Met for the first time since 1897. In addition to Petersen, the cast includes the most famous Hamlet of our times, baritone Simon Keelyside, as well as Jennifer Larmore, Toby Spence, and James Morris. Louis Langrée will conduct.


The Metropolitan Opera in New York has announced that coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay has withdrawn from their up-coming production of Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet due to illness. At the Conservatoire Massenet studied with and the piano with François Laurent. He pursued his studies, with modest distinction, until the beginning of 1855, when family concerns disrupted his education. Alexis Massenet's health was poor, and on medical advice he moved from Paris to in the south of France; the family, including Massenet, moved with him. Again, Massenet's own memoirs and the researches of his biographers are at variance: the composer recalled his exile in Chambéry as lasting for two years; and Irvine record that the young man returned to Paris and the Conservatoire in October 1855. On his return he lodged with relations in and resumed his studies; by 1859 he had progressed so far as to win the Conservatoire's top prize for pianists. The family's finances were no longer comfortable, and to support himself Massenet took private piano students and played as a percussionist in theatre orchestras. His work in the orchestra pit gave him a good working knowledge of the operas of and other composers, classic and contemporary. Traditionally, many students at the Conservatoire went on to substantial careers as church organists; with that in mind Massenet enrolled for organ classes, but they were not a success and he quickly abandoned the instrument. He gained some work as a piano accompanist, in the course of which he met who, along with , was one of his two musical heroes.