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The Tenor Version of Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet Premieres at Festival Radio France Occitanie Montpellier using Bärenreiter's "Opéra français" Edition

Jun. 27, 2022

On July 15, the Festival Radio France Occitanie Montpellier presents the world premiere of the tenor version of Hamlet, using the Opéra français edition. The concert performance will be conducted by Michael Schønwandt featuring tenor John Osborn in the title role.

Two hundred years after the birth of Ambroise Thomas, his opera Hamlet was published in the “Opéra français” series. This publication makes available one of the most highly-regarded French operas in a reliable, scholarly edition, good reason for a renaissance of the French Shakespeare adaptation.

Ambroise Thomas devoted at least six years to the composition of his Hamlet. This is not in itself extraordinary since Meyerbeer – still alive when Thomas began work and the Paris Opéra’s most successful purveyor of grand works – was notoriously slow in completing such successes as Le Prophète and L’Africaine. Thomas undoubtedly felt the mighty challenge his new work presented, but it was not, as we might suppose, the challenge of rendering Shakespeare’s masterpiece (perhaps the greatest drama in Western literature) in music; it was not deep apprehension about setting such lines as ‘Être ou ne pas être’ or ‘Allez dans un cloître’;  it was not hesitation as to whether the opera should have a happy ending or not. For Thomas the challenge was the Paris Opera itself, the acknowledged world capital of the lyric stage, the theatre for which the greatest living master of opera, Verdi, was also composing a new work, Don Carlos.

A new edition of this great opera is timely since all existing scores date back to the 1860s. The printed sources, a full score and a vocal score, do not agree with one another or with the autograph score, and both lack certain scenes, including the alternative ending devised by Thomas to allow Hamlet to die at the final curtain. Thomas's abundant sketches and drafts, as well as the autograph score, divided between the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Bibliothèque-Musée de l'Opéra, both in Paris, provide further material that has not been available before.

Read more about the history of Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet in an essay written by editor, Hugh Macdonald here.

To learn more about Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet, and other operas in the “Opéra français” series, visit:

Ambroise Thomas
opera in five acts
Libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier
Edited by Sarah Plummer-Hanrahan and Hugh Macdonald. 
Series „L’Opéra français“.

Cast: Claudius, King of Danmark (bass [tenor]), Queen Gertrude (mezzosoprano), Hamlet (baritone [tenor]), Polonius (bass), Ophélie (soprano), Laertes (tenor), Horatio (bass), Marcellus (tenor), The shadow of the dead king (bass),  1. Gravedigger (tenor), 2. Gravedigger (Baritone) – choir und ballett

Orchestra: 3 (pic),2 (2 ca), 2, bcl, sax (A), sax (Bar), 4 – 4, 2 cornets à piston, 2,3, bsaxhn – timpani, perc – 2 harp – strings; music on stage: fl, cl, hn, 6 tpt, 4 trbn, bsaxhn, perc, 2 Hfe

Publisher: Bärenreiter; Score, Piano reduction, Performance material available on hire

First performance with the new edition: 9.6.2011, Production Opéra du Rhin Strasbourg, conductor: Patrick Fournillier, director: Vincent Boussard

World Premiere of the tenor version: 15.7.2022 Montpellier (Festival Radio France Occitanie), Chor of Opéra and Orchestre National Montpellier Occitanie, conductor: Michael Schønwandt