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Hamlet in Raincoat, Bloody Ophelia, Where’s Denmark? Review

Marlis Petersen as Ophelia in
Marlis Petersen as Ophelia in "Hamlet" by Ambroise Thomas in New York. Photographer: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera via Bloomberg

To flee or not to flee? That was the question when the Metropolitan Opera staged Ambroise Thomas’s “Hamlet” Tuesday night after dropping the piece for more than a century.

Back so soon?

Oh, mon dieu. What a tepid epic this is, stretching perhaps 15 minutes of musical inspiration over five acts and nearly three hours of agony and mystery.

Why is Hamlet wearing a rain coat? What’s that seat cushion doing around Ophelia’s waist during the Mad Scene? What happened to her lake? Where’s Denmark? What is this feeble old production staged by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser for Geneva in the 1990s doing at the grand Met?

Couldn’t the company’s able carpenters have hammered up a little castle all their own?

Walls designed by Christian Fenouillat moved all night long to no dramatic end. As revelers clumsily crowded in to celebrate the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude, they looked like they arrived via the Met’s costume storage closet.

The Players hired by Hamlet exhibited the joie de vivre of war refugees, murkily lit to complete the mood by Christophe Forey.

Funereal Pace

In the pit, the usually lively Louis Langree conducted at a funereal pace long before Simon Keenlyside, our Hamlet, collapsed after a strenuous night spent trying to breathe some life into this dodo. He madly poured wine on his head, threatened mother Gertrude with a jagged piece of wood and threw himself against a wall so forcefully he bounced off it. (I assume the wall hadn’t just moved unexpectedly).

All the while, the baritone sang splendidly, though the big showpiece went to soprano Marlis Petersen. Donning Ophelia’s weeds with not much notice for an indisposed Natalie Dessay and commuting from Vienna where she appeared in the premiere of Aribert Reimann’s “Medea,” Petersen showed off cool nerves, good looks and an assured coloratura technique.

In this staging, Ophelia (Ophelie, here) is ordered to cut herself to pieces with a knife while singing madly. Perhaps she could be implored to trim the score?

It’s probably worth seeing since you won’t be around at the next presumed outing 100 years from now. And the rest of the cast shows the Met at its best: Jennifer Larmore an expressive Gertrude, James Morris, still booming impressively as Claudius and Toby Spence making a most auspicious appearance as Laertes.

At Lincoln Center, Broadway at 65th Street. Information: +1-212-362-6000; Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:
****       Do Not Miss
***        Excellent
**         Good
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, Bloomberg’s arts and culture section. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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