Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hamlet at the MET, 1884 - 2010

Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio: 21 February 1884.
Ophélie: Marcella Sembrich

Mme. Sembrich gave a unique and lovely interpretation of Ophelia. It was a tender, sympathetic, consistent interpretation, which found its legitimate climax in the last scene. She was in the best of voice, which she always managed according to the rules of high art. In the scene of the Gardens of the palace, where she sings alone, her acting was of great assistance to the whole effect. The subsequent aria, which Hamlet overhears, was one of the successes of the evening. In the final scene the aria, "I will divide my flowers," was sung with the most finished execution. Her command of fioriture was again fully demonstrated, as well as her highly artistic management of voice. As far as sentiment goes, Mme. Sembrich always does extraordinarily well. Last night she gave proof of how beautifully she can take a low note, and how very comprehensive is her range of voice. In the time of the portamento also was equally happy. Her voice too, was expressive and sympathetic throughout, at the same time in the upper register it was not always agreeable in quality, nor was it always reliable as to intonation. On the whole here Ophelia was a very decided success, and she received a full share of that enthusiasm Cincinnati audiences have already accorded her.

(Unidentified review in unidentified Cincinnati newspaper)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 6, 1893
New production

Ophélie: Nellie Melba

The Ophelia was Mme. Melba, who, it is needless to say, added very greatly to the general strength of the performance. Her splendid voice was heard again with great delight, and she achieved a triumph in the mad scene, which, it must be admitted, is more consistent than Donizetti's in "Lucia."

(New York Times review of W.J. Henderson)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 4, 1895
In Italian?

Ophélie: Emma Calvé

Everybody puts up with the lugubrious proceedings, however, patiently waiting till the end, when it is hoped that some great Ophelia may indemnify them for the ennui and the sufferings of an ill spent evening. Such an Ophelia appeared in the person of Mme. Calvé, at the Metropolitan Opera House last night. Other prima donnas have sung the mad scene - the whole part is so vaguely drawn, musically as well as dramatically, that it virtually resolves itself into this single opportunity - more brilliantly. Notwithstanding, this is the first Ophelia since the days of Christine Nilsson and Ilma di Murska. Vocally, it is incomparably the finest thing that Calvι has done here. Her tones had the eerie quality that quite made you forget the singer's virtuosity. A great artist it was that you were listening to, not a singer of scales trills, and staccati. It was really the mad, pathetic Ophelia of Shakespeare we saw last night, not a prima donna who masqueraded in the part. In this scene Calve moved her audience as much, nay more, than she had ever moved them as Carmen or Santuzza. For it was emotional singing and acting of the very highest order that they had seen and heard. In the early part of the opera - which should never be given - Mme. Calve was simple and unaffected, but conventional. Occasionally she sharpened, too. Perhaps that was merely a little realistic touch illustrative of "sweet bells jangled harsh and out of tune." But isn't that knowing one's Shakespeare too well? Let it be as it may. Calve has found a new role, or scene rather, in which she is beyond compare. If she would only overcome that sharp, choppy stride. Sarah, we can forgive this mannerism, but no one else.

(Review of Henry Krehbiel in the New York Herald)


Metropolitan Opera
March 16, 2010
New production

Ophélie: Marlis Petersen

Petersen sang with pathos and impressive agility. Her light, frothy soprano suited the character’s fragility, but Thomas’ frequent leaps to the top of the range sounded challenging.

His partner in previous runs of this production was the French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay, and she had been scheduled to take the part of Ophelia at the Met. When she canceled because of illness, the company brought in the German soprano Marlis Petersen, who performed something of a heroic feat. She finished another engagement in Vienna on Friday, flew toNew York on Saturday, then had all of two days to rehearse before opening night.

Under the circumstances, she did a creditable job, though she did not appear to have had time to develop much chemistry with her co-star. Vocally, she is a little underpowered in her lower register and her sound tends to harden on her highest notes. But the role of Ophelia is really all about her extended mad scene, and here Petersen had some lovely moments of pathos, even if she didn’t always project a sense of her character’s derangement. She wasn’t helped by theproduction, which moved the setting from a riverbank to a room in the castle and made Ophelia die by stabbing herself instead of drowning.

By Mike Silverman, AP

By Tuesday night, however, this trouper was ready. A lovely woman with a bright, alluring and agile voice, she seemed immersed in a role that, to judge from her beautiful and emotionally vulnerable singing, she clearly relishes.

By Anthony Tommasini for the NY Times

Dessay’s cancellation was certainly a disappointment to many, but it cleared the way for Marlis Petersen, a German soprano who was both less polished and more vulnerable in the role than Dessay’s usual presentation these days. At first (in her Act I love duet with Hamlet) there was a threat of weakness, but she sang very beautifully in her mad scene (which sounds oddly exotic, faintly presaging Lakme’s Bell Song), with clear, jewel-like tones that were not only lovely but had a quality of innocence in keeping with the character. It wasn’t a barnstorming performance -- Dessay usually sets out to grab you from the first moment she’s on stage, for better or worse -- but ultimately an effective one.

By Anne Midgette for the Washington Post


Listen to Marlis Petersen
singing Ophélie´s Mad Scene
(A vos jeux, mes amis)
Met, 16 March 2010

(all 12 minutes of it)

and downloadable here


(Pics and reviews courtesy of the Met Archive)


Anonymous said...

Agapite Parsi, kat' arxin, s'efxaristoume gia ola! Mia mikri diorthwsi, xwris pareksigisi, o titlos tis sygkekrimenis arias einai "a vos jeux" kai oxi "yeux".
Me filikous xairetismous, P.

Parsifal said...

Merci ami! :)