In five acts by AMBROISE THOMAS.
Text taken from SHAKESPEARE by MICHEL CARRE and JULES BARBIER.
Hamlet was first reproduced in Paris in 1868, a year after the
representation of Mignon, but it never reached the latter's popularity.
This is not due to the music, which is very fine, and even nobler than
in Mignon, but to the horrid mutilation of Shakespeare's glorious
tragedy, which almost turns into ridicule the most sublime thoughts.
The text is soon explained. We find the Shakespearean name with their
thoughts and deeds turned into operatic jargon.
The first act shows Hamlet's disgust and pain at his mother's early
wedding with Claudius, King of Denmark, only two months after her first
husband's death. Ophelia vainly tries to divert his somber thoughts,
he finds her love very sweet however, and when her brother Laertes,
before starting on a long journey commends her to his friends'
protection, Hamlet swears to be true to her unto death.
In the interview at midnight with his father's ghost, Hamlet
experiences great revulsion of feeling, when he discovers that his
mother's second husband, is his father's murderer. The ghost
urges Hamlet, to avenge his parent, which he swears to do.
In the second act we find Hamlet quite changed. He not only avoids his
father and mother, but also shuns Ophelia, who vainly tries to
understand his strange behaviour. Determined to find out the truth
about Claudius' guilt, Hamlet has paid some actor, to play the old
tragedy of Gonzaga's murder. When the actor pours the poison into the
sleeping King's mouth Claudius sinks back half fainting, and Hamlet,
keenly observant, loudly accuses him of his father's death. But he is
unable to act and after the King's escape he seeks his mother's room to
ponder on his wrongs. Hidden behind a pillar he overhears from
Claudius' own lips that Ophelia's father, old Polonius is the King's
accomplice. This destroys the last spark of his belief in humanity.
Thrusting the weeping Ophelia from him, he advises her to shut herself
into convent and to bid farewell to all earthly joys. Left alone with
his mother he wildly reproaches her, and at last so far forgets
himself, that he is about to kill her, had not his father's ghost
appeared once more, exhorting him to take vengeance but to spare his
This scene is very powerful, the music of strange and weird beauty.--
In the fourth act poor demented Ophelia takes part in the plays of the
village-maidens. The Swedish song she sings to them is full of sweet
pathos. When her playmates leave her, she hides among the
willows, enticed into the water by the "Neck" (Swedish for Sirens),
whose own song she has sung. Slowly floating out on the waves her
voice dies away softly. With her death the interest in the opera ends;
however a fifth act takes us to her grave, where the whole funeral
procession arrives. The ghost once more appeals to Hamlet for
vengeance, until he rouses himself and runs his sword through Claudius,
after which the ghost disappears, while Hamlet is elected King of
Denmark on the spot.
The audience in German theatres is spared this last piece of absurdity
and the play is brought to a more appropriate close by Hamlet's
stabbing himself on his bride's bier.
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