At the Opéra Bastille, Ludovic Tézier makes Hamlet a dark and inhabited clown


The Specter of the deceased king (Clive Bayley), Gertrude (Eve-Maud Hubeaux) and Hamlet (Ludovic Tézier) in

These last years, Hamlet came out of purgatory where it had languished, like many operas in the French Romantic repertoire, since the end of the Second World War. Witness the version staged by Cyril Teste in 2018, at the Opéra-Comique. The work of Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896), premiered in 1868, had however never been given at the Paris Opera since the 1938 performances at the Palais Garnier. A rehabilitation mission entrusted to the Opéra Bastille and to Krzysztof Warlikowski, crowned Hamlet of Shakespeare who imposed it at the Festival d’Avignon in 2001.

As in Iphigenia in Tauride, tragedy lyric by Gluck, presented at Garnier in 2006, the Polish director set the action in a retirement home, an imposing flashback and nostalgia. His Hamlet is an old chick. Neglected, with a heavy gait, he survives in an establishment for dependent people with his cacochymic mother confined to a wheelchair, but also with his madness, his memories. The drowning of his fiancée, Ophélie, who committed suicide for love, the murder of the father whose honor he could not avenge, and this regicide adulterer, whom he cannot stop loving in an Oedipal way.

A large space with Spartan decor – a bed, a table, a few chairs – delimited by transparent partitions or fitted with bars. The plot takes place in the foreground, but also in this prison laboratory of madness, at the back, whose residents in straightjackets can be guessed. In the courtyard, a long side corridor, through which the characters enter and leave, one of them, mute – the personification of Hamlet’s psyche – exhausting his fury like a lion in a cage.

Flawless virtuosity

This constant back and forth between present and past, this porosity between life and death induce a permanent temporal reversal, as if the hourglass kept turning over. So Ophelia, once again becoming the little girl who jumped on Hamlet’s lap. Thus Queen Gertrude, covering her sovereign beauty in a Roaring Twenties outfit… before being undressed by her jealous and violent son, almost strangled and forced to go to bed with him. Even the specter of the murdered father, a sort of white clown with black fingernails à la Nosferatu, seems no longer to enjoin his son to exact revenge but to play him, distilling ambivalent looks and smiles imbued with maleficence (the close-up faces of the videos by Denis Gueguin).

To embody this Hamlet who has become a sad clown, an inverted double of his father, the unsurpassable Ludovic Tézier. Rarely has the French baritone been so invested on stage. As for the vocal performance, it leaves you speechless. By the amplitude of the means, the perfection of the melodic conduct, its volume, its projection, its length, a real lesson in nobility and naturalness, prosodically luminous. Eager and amorous in the first duet with Ophélie, demiurgic and orgiastic in the Bacchanalian song (“O wine, dispel my sadness”), finally of an implacable, almost furious violence, in the confrontation with his mother, without forgetting the monologue ” To be or not to be “, filled with unfathomable grief.

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