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Eugène Delacroix, Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard (1839)
30 Nov 2009

THOMAS: Hamlet — London 2003

Hamlet: Opéra in five acts.

Music composed by Ambroise Thomas. Libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier after The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare.

Streaming Audio

Ambroise Thomas: Hamlet

Hamlet: Simon Keenlyside; Claudius: Robert Lloyd; Gertrude: Yvonne Naef; Ophélie: Natalie Dessay; Laerte: Yann Beuron; L’ombre du Feu Roi: Markus Hollop; Marcellus: Edgaras Montvidas; Horatio; Graeme Broadbent; Polonius: Jonathan May; 1st Gravedigger: Darren Jeffery; 2nd Gravedigger: Matthew Beale. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The Royal Opera Chorus. Terry Edwards (director). Louis Langrée (conductor). Live performance, 20 May 2003, London.

 

First Performance: 9 March 1868, Paris, Opéra.

Principal Roles:
Hamlet Baritone
Claudius, roi de Danemark Bass
L’ombre du Feu Roi Bass
Polonius, grand chambellan Bass
Laerte, fils de Polonius Tenor
Gertrude, reine de Danemark et mère d’Hamlet Mezzo-Soprano
Ophélie, fille de Polonius Soprano

Synopsis:

Act I

Scene 1. A hall in the castle of Elsinore

Claudius is acclaimed King of Denmark and he and his Queen Gertrude receive the good wishes of the court. Hamlet broods that although it is only two months since the death of his father, his mother has already married her husband’s brother, Claudius.

Ophelia is grieved at his melancholy and reproaches him for neglecting her. He swears that he does truly love her, and for her sake renounces his plan of leaving the court. Laertes, about to leave for Norway on a mission from the king, comes to bid his sister Ophelia and Hamlet farewell. He commits Ophelia to Hamlet’s care.

To the derision of the carousing courtiers, Marcellus and Horatio announce that they have seen the ghost of the late king. They are looking for Hamlet to inform him.

Scene 2. The battlements of the castle

Hamlet joins Horatio and Marcellus. The ghost appears and reveals to Hamlet that he was poisoned while sleeping by his brother. Hamlet swears revenge.

Act II

Scene 1. A room in the castle

Ophelia is disturbed by Hamlet’s strange coldness. He appears but does not speak to her, confirming her worst fears. She begs the queen to let her retire to a convent, but the queen wishes her to stay, hoping that she may discover the cause of Hamlet’s distracted state and cure him.

The king tells the queen that Hamlet is mad, but she fears that his strange conduct may indicate that he has discovered their guilty secret. The king assures her that Hamlet knows nothing and tries to calm her as she becomes hysterical, having a vision of their murdered victim rising to accuse them.

Hamlet appears, rejects the king’s request to call him father, feigns madness briefly, then announces the arrival of a troupe of actors. Hamlet intends to have them perform a play which will recreate the circumstances of his father’s murder. He welcomes them with a drinking song.

Scene 2. A hall in the castle

The court gathers to see the play. Hamlet tells Horatio to observe the king. As the play is performed Hamlet describes the action. As the murder is committed the king orders the play stopped. Hamlet pretends madness, accusing the king wildly, to the horror of the court, including even Horatio and Marcellus.

Act III

A room in the castle

Hamlet, angry at himself for his failure to kill the king, watches him at prayer and holds back again, as he wishes to catch him with his sins unabsolved. The king, weighed down by his guilt, calls Polonius and Hamlet realises that Ophelia’s father was an accomplice in the crime.

The queen brings Ophelia to Hamlet, intending to have their wedding performed; but Hamlet, distressed by his awareness of her father’s treachery, spurns Ophelia. The queen reproaches Hamlet, only to be accused by him of complicity in the murder. Unseen by the queen, the ghost appears again. Hamlet, now calmer, bids his mother goodnight.

Act IV

Open country, near a lake

Ophelia, driven mad by her despair, joins merrymaking peasants. She tells them she is married to Hamlet, distributes flowers and sings a song to the wili who, according to her, resides in the lake. She is accidently drowned.

Act V

A graveyard

Hamlet watches two gravediggers at work singing about the transience of earthly pleasures — except drinking. He has fled the court to escape being murdered, leaving Horatio to attend to his plans, and is aware of Ophelia’s madness, but not of her death.

He is joined by Laertes, who is aware of her death and blames Hamlet for his lack of care for her. He succeeds in provoking Hamlet to a duel but they are interrupted by Ophelia’s funeral cortege. Hamlet wishes to kill himself but the appearance of the ghost reminds him of his vow. He kills Claudius and then joins Ophelia in death.

[In the original version of the opera, Hamlet is acclaimed king at the end.]

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

Click here for the complete libretto.

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