Hamlet, the opera, was written for the Paris Opera and first performed there in 1868. It presupposes great singers. Opera North's new production, which opened in Leeds on Thursday, follows on from the success of the company's Don Carlos, in which Michaels-Moore sang the role of Posa. As it happens, the baritone who first created the role of Hamlet made the same progression. In this Hamlet, as earlier in Don Carlos, the chorus and orchestra convinced us that what was good enough for the Paris Opera is good enough for Opera North.
Oliver von Dohnnyi conducted the English Northern Philharmonia with great fervour, while the musicians relished the many solo opportunities that Thomas provided. The overture and first chorus had a thrilling impact. Opera North boasts a first-rate chorus. It's surely time that the name of the chorus master, Martin Fitzpatrick, appeared on the cast list. In terms of the rest of the cast and the production, however, this Hamlet is not quite the successor that Tim Albery's Don Carlos deserved.
John Rath as the Ghost combined a sound technique and unusually good French. As Ophelie, Rebecca Caine showed great spirit and went to her death, in a tiled pool sunk into the stage floor, with considerable aplomb. The exceptional coloratura demands of the part were not quite within her reach. The roles of Gertrude, Claudius and Laerte were more drastically under-filled. There were several uncomfortable moments when I wished the Grand Theatre's acoustics did not make it so easy to hear the voices over the orchestra.
Ophelie's death was probably the high point of David McVicar's modern- dress production. Dressed by Michael Vale in "good taste" monochrome, it was vivid but marred by some occasional silly business. The two grave- diggers popped up repeatedly to set the stage, clear it and sweep it: their unfunny antics looked like a half-hearted attempt to rescue Shakespeare from French operatic seriousness.
A low point was reached every time four "dancers" appeared: incapable of mime or classical steps, they were asked to do both by the choreographer Peter Titus. The director illustrated every orchestral passage with movement on stage. Perhaps he lacked confidence in the music. Though Thomas is no Verdi, there is enough substance in his score to keep us all entertained without these laboured interventions.
There are further performances of Hamlet: in Leeds on 25, 27, 29 September, and 14 October; at the Palace Theatre Manchester on 17 and 20 October; at the Theatre Royal Nottingham on 24 and 27 October; at the New Lyceum Hull on 31 October and 3 November; and at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield on 7 and 10 November