Opera Reviews
30 March 2023
Untitled Document

Hamlet in the cellar

by Moore Parker
Thomas: Hamlet
Theater an der Wien
23 April 2012

Photo: Werner KmetitschWith their concept, Olivier Py and his team - Pierre-André Weitz (Sets) and Bertrand Killy (Lighting) - have transformed the Theater an der Wien's seemingly limitless stage into a cavern of human debauchery and misery.

An ingenious set of grey brickwork, raked almost to the ceiling, opens to the rear with an enormous subdivided midsection which slides, rotates and re-forms in wedges of steps, arches, and pillars - keeping both the protagonists, and the spectator's eye in check throughout the three-and-a-half hour marathon.

The tried-and-tested production team in conjunction with the brilliant Marc Minkowski is an undoubted guarantee for success, even in a work which fails to quite rank with some of its contemporaries. A few obligatory boos for the staging were drowned at the final curtain by enthusiastic applause.

In the title role, Stéphane Degout draws on an impeccable technique to fulfill the score's demands, and shape the finest of pianissimi through effortless fortissimi with his burnish lyric baritone. He is truly in the line of his great compatriot predecessors, Souzay, Blanc and Massard. His tormented portrayal is almost omnipresent on stage throughout the evening, and encompasses despair and self-mutilation, through to full-frontal nudity in an Oedipus-tainted scene when bathed by Gertrude in Act III. A tour-de-force in every respect.

Christine Schäfer's sensitive and troubled Ophelia appears almost physically crippled by her emotional burden and her vocal inflection seems to be reflective and expressive at will. If on occasions expression comes at the cost of tonal ease or beauty, the overall interpretation is no poorer as a result.

As Gertrude, Stella Grigorian also spared no effort - finding a leery charge of glamour, lust and command which well suits her stage attributes. The odd dramatic moment might have called for one extra notch of vocal metal, but not significantly.

Phillip Ens presented a solid, deliciously unsympathetic Claudius, and Frédéric Antoun was a stylish and virile Laërte. Martijn Cornet made a particularly strong impression as the First Gravedigger, and the cast was nicely complimented by Jerôme Varnier as the Ghost, Pavel Kudinov as Polonius, and Julien Bahr as the Second Gravedigger.

Minkowski manages to draw every imaginable nuance out of Thomas' score, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra fully in tow and giving of their best, despite the occasional fluff in the brass section. The work presented ample opportunity for the Arnold Schoenberg Choir to prove their mettle, which they did with their customary aplomb.

This is a co-production with the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels. Let's hope it appears on DVD. I suspect it would film well, and would be a wonderful performance to augment any opera buff's collection.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo Werner Kmetitsch
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