The 2015 Fort Worth Opera Festival came to a close on Sunday afternoon with a modern revival of Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet. After Thomas’ death, the opera was largely neglected, but has been regaining exposure recently, including a 2010 performance at the Metropolitan Opera. During the composer’s lifetime the work underwent several changes, including the ending to reflect more closely the ending of Shakespeare when the work was performed at London’s Covent Garden; it was this ending that was used by Fort Worth Opera and director Thaddeus Strassberger, and the modern setting co-produced by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Washington National Opera seems to be the next step in the work’s evolution.
Hamlet is the perfect work for a baritone looking to make his mark as the title role features a multitude of challenging arias that attempt to balance between the many mood swings of the distraught prince. Wes Mason embodied the character of Hamlet and his proclivity towards fits of rage, all while deftly navigating Thomas’ musical play between elegance and wrath. But it was Hamlet’s tragic lover Ophelia who was the star on Sunday as Talis Trevigne’s strong coloratura rose above Thomas’ score and her “mad scene” in Act IV was the highlight of the entire performance.
The juxtaposition of the modern setting featuring video, choristers in the aisles and gunfights with Thomas’ thoroughly romantic, but wholly unmemorable score was the production’s largest plus as it at least made it interesting. Strassberger’s design was at times a bit confusing as the video projections featured cars and tanks and people waving flags and tearing down statues, creating an odd scene of revolution centered around the coronation of a queen to her brother-in-law. The mix of swordfights and gunfights when added to the scenic focus of an abandoned warehouse was also a head scratcher. In the end though, the modernization of the work made the production seem like a happy middle and fitting ending to the 2015 festival after the straightforward production of La Traviata and the thoroughly modern Dog Days. The mix of traditional and new with a modernized grand opera like Hamlet was a great example of the diversity that one has come to expect from the Fort Worth Opera Festival year-after-year and next season’s festival featuring the word premiere of JFK presented in Bass Hall along with Rossini’s classic The Barber of Seville and the regional premieres of two one-act operas (Buried Alive and Embedded) presented together promises to be an equally, if not more, exciting and diverse season.