I started my last Generation O Night with an early dinner at a relatively new Kennedy Center Roof Terrace Restaurant. The building is semi-circular and all windows, which means that it offers a breathtaking view of the Potomac River and Downtown Washington DC. (Fine print: That lady in blue is not me - I am the one very far off in the mirror taking this picture)!
I did not have a reservation, but was seated right away, and my dinner arrived shortly afterwards.
The menu that they have is musically-themed. Instead of your regular "appetizers", "entrees" and "desserts" they have Prelude, Interlude, Finale, and Encores.
So, I had Gnocchi with wild mushrooms from the Interlude (can anyone explain to me why Italian food goes so well with opera?) and Green Tea Opera Cake with a glass of Chandon rose champagne from the Encore.
After dinner I had a little time to wander around, stop by at the souvenir shop, stare at the gorgeous costume display and go out onto the balcony to enjoy the gorgeous sunset.
Then it was time to pick up my ticket at the will call window. And it certainly did not go without an adventure. With my ID ready in my hand, I came up and said my name. The window woman grabbed my ID, gave me the ticket and the ID, and then all of a sudden said pretty rudely: " Whoa, whoa - could I see that ID again?", literally grabbed it from my hand and peered into it. I remained calm and told her that my Generation O membership expired the next day. She looked at me suspiciously and said: "OK - fine!", and gave me back my ID. I paused by the window, just in case she felt like saying "sorry'' or just offer a smile. However, it quickly became clear that none of that was going to happen. Not a big deal. Nothing, or at least nothing like that, could ruin my fabulous opera night.
I had a great orchestra $190.00 seat in Row W(15),( purchased for $50.00!!!)
Everything was so close. When you sit too close to the stage, it becomes uncomfortably close, if you know what I mean. You see too much of what you should not be seeing. This time, everything was comfortably close!
Check out the ceiling pic that I took. Not like the famous Met one, but not bad anyway, right?
If you consider yourself an opera lover, you have to see Hamlet. Of course, Thomas is not Verdi or Offenbach. However, the opera definitely has its gems and deserves praise.
The production of Lyric Opera of Kansas City, directed and designed by Thaddeus Strassberger, was amazing. It was ultra-contemporary, but not just to shock the audience. It was contemporary to bring the message. Nothing was there just because - every little detail was there for a reason.
So, let me take you through the production and bring out the highlights that impressed me. I feel like writing this in the present tense, as if we are all watching it together. I guess I am still living it.
This particular Hamlet is taking place at a totalitaristic Denmark of the 50s. Every banner bears an image of an outstretched arm with a fist.
The main scenery is a half-destroyed Colosseum or theater. The background changes. It is either black, with guardsmen and the ghost walking through the dark galleries, or brightly lit with crystal chandeliers during the coronation ball, or misty bluish grey in Ophelie's madness scene.
Before I go any further, here is what Mr. Strassberger had to say about his concept of Hamlet:
Before designing the physical production, I concentrated on discovering the core conflict within Hamlet. This production centers on Hamlet's - and our own - inability to know clearly who is a "liberal" and who is a "conservative" and what that brings to bear on the world. Was Hamlet's father a totalitarian monster who had to be brought down at any cost, or rather a visionary thoughtfully leading his people to a future filled with prosperity and peace? Is his successor Claudius a liberator or a tyrannical war criminal? The question resounds loudly from the very first scene.
Hamlet doesn't see his glass as either half-full or half-empty - but rather frozen, stagnant and undrinkable, Everything that he encounters is so fraught with doubt and anxiety that action becomes impossible. The Denmark that we see through his eyes - cold unrelenting, moribund - is filled with scheming characters who incessantly demand love, political loyalty, and filial devotion.Trapped not only by the forces around him but also by his own ambivalent reaction to them, he becomes the eye of an increasingly violent storm icily swirling around him.
The first very effective scene is the Overture. The doors on both sides of the house at the mid-orchestra level open and a coffin is carried right through the house by an extensive funeral procession consisting of chorus members and supers.
Right after that a celebration for the new king starts on the stage and leaflets are tossed right onto the orchestra audience from an open door in the ceiling.
(All that was happening right where I was sitting, so as an audience member, I was feeling quite involved in the production.)
The most amazing scene is the one after Ophelie drowns.
We see a curtain that looks like pieces of a broken mirror scattered along a dark blue background. Then the curtain splits in two parts and shows Ophelie , swinging vertically against a similar broken mirror background and dreamily waving her arms in a "floating" way. Her podium or whatever she is in, is made trickily, so it imitates her dress, spread the way it would look if she were floating in the water. She sings the most beautiful aria along with a soft chorus on the background: "I hear your voice - you are there. But this is my revenge to you - you will be calling me, but I won't come - it will be too late".
We understand that we are watching her drowning and thinking her last thoughts, while her disturbed brain is still working. And then the parts of the first broken mirror curtain draw back together and the whole stage blacks out. Wow!
Let me tell you this: it's worth seeing this production just for the sake of this amazing scene.
And now to Hamlet himself.
Hamlet was sung by a young baritone Liam Bonner. He was not perfect, but he was INCREDIBLE (and I mean every one of those caps). Firstly and most importantly, he has a very beautiful voice, a "Baryton-Martin" if you will, with a lot of liquid musicality and flexibility in it. Now to this, add the most outstanding acting.
His Hamlet was passionate, emotional, cynical, sarcastic, neurotic, desperate.
He was on the stage almost the whole opera - what a vocal and artistic challenge!!! and yet he managed to be different all the time. He continued to make an impression as the opera progressed first with the famous Drinking Song and then with his To be or not to be aria.
He already sings at the Met and before we know it, I am positive, we will have a new internationally acclaimed star - Liam Bonner. Remember this name, my friends. You'll be hearing it.
As for Samuel Ramey, who sang Claudius, I have to say I was not impressed at all. His voice sounded very shaky and completely lacked elasticity. I did not think he managed to bring out the power or energy of his character.
That's the thing about opera. You never really know who is going to impress or disappoint you!
I was very happy to see Placido Domingo conducting. I was sitting so close to the pit that I really saw him. After the recent surgery that he underwent, it was nice to see him full of life and energy again. Frankly, whatever I may think about Mr. Domingo's conducting or baritone transformation, I will always be grateful to him for his Alfredo, Hoffmann and Don Jose.
Finally, the best for last, here is a sneaky pic that I took at the curtain call, but hei - cameras were flashing like crazy, so I thought why not? You can also see how great my seat was, since the picture looks so good.
So from left to right: a grave digger, the ghost, Samuel Ramey as Claudius, Elizabeth Bishop as Gertrude, Liam Bonner as Hamlet, Placido Domingo, Elizabeth Furtal as Ophelie and the other two guys are Hamlet's friends, Horatio and Marcellus.
The dressed up people on the back are actors who did the pantomime at the coronation ball.I am very-very proud of this shot.
I have to say that yesterday was the first time I ever heard a saxophone in an opera. Guess what? Hamlet was the first opera in which saxophone was played.
Finally, another little thing that will make you all feel like you were there last night.
At the curtain call, when Placido Domingo came out onto the stage, Liam Bonner "invited" him to stand between himself and Elizabeth Bishop (Gertrude) to which Mr. Domingo gesticulated like " Well, how about I stand between Hamlet and Ophelie - wouldn't it make more sense?", to which Liam Bonner laughed and gesticulated like he thought it was a great idea. Those little curtain call talks...somehow they get stuck in our memory, don't they?)
All in all, it was a very beautiful and memorable evening.
Happy Birthday to me!