Shakespeare in Various Forms

It’s been a week of murderous drama – Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth in the Metropolitan Opera’s HD version of Macbeth, Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet in the 4-hour film of that super-sized Shakespeare tragedy, and Ben Affleck, yes, in the same breath as Anna Netrebko and Kenneth Branagh, as Nick Dunne in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. It was a big week for murder, duplicity, troubled marriages, and regicide, making it an exhausting and troubling week.

Anna Netrebko

I had no idea the murderous Lady Macbeth looked like this. Until yesterday I saw her as a pinch-faced, tight-lipped, stringy-haired shrew. After yesterday’s Metropolitan Opera performance I understood how Macbeth could be so easily manipulated. I’d probably do anything she asked too.

Sexy as they are they are not Ms. Netrebko’s most famous attribute. She also sings. It is mesmerizing to watch her and I could easily do it without sound, but as the most acclaimed opera singer in the world it’s the voice that carries the day. It’s electrifying, and her current turn as Lady Macbeth extends her repertoire beyond the Mozart and Puccini that have been her signature roles until now. She’s knocking the critics dead and getting rave reviews.

Zeljko Lucic sings the role of Macbeth and he is good, but Netrebko dominates. I’m not very knowledgeable about opera but I do appreciate the creativity when old standards are updated. It’s a way to keep us from getting distracted by the period settings. Last year Lucic had the title role in a Rigoletto set in the Rat Pack’s 1970’s Las Vegas. This production of Macbeth was modernized and transformed into a battle between two army factions in the 20th Century.

Something similar could be said for Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film of Hamlet, which was shot at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, doubling as Elsinor, and set in the 19th Century.


The performance uses conflated texts from several sources and runs almost 4 hours. This version is sometimes called the “eternal” text, possibly because it never seems to end. Nevertheless, it is a stunning work of cinematic art with an all-star cast that includes Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, John Gielgud, Kate Winslet,  Charlton Heston, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Jack Lemmon. Some are better than others. I dislike Charlton Heston (RIP) intensely because of his NRA lunacy, but he is really good in the “play within a play.” Jack Lemmon not so much.

Maybe the best part about the DVD is the Special Features part where Branagh and another Shakespearean scholar talk us through the entire play commenting on the actors, the lines, the settings, and the thought behind what is being presented. It’s like a senior seminar on Hamlet. It’s back to school time, and Shakespeare is a good place to restart.

Now about Ben Affleck and Gone Girl. I didn’t read the book and I didn’t think I wanted to see the film, but I watched Charlie Rose interview Affleck, Rosamund Pike, the director David Fincher, and the writer/screenwriter Gillian Flynn and decided I needed to see it. I wasn’t disappointed. I love thrillers and this is a masterpiece in the genre. After the film I had questions about its veracity, but it was a 2-½ hour movie based on a 432 pages book. I trust that some of my reservations and questions about the film can be answered by reading the book. Unfortunately, I have a giant stack of books on my desk and Gone Girl will have to go to the bottom. Nevertheless, it was an exciting night out and a nice change from Shakespeare’s murderous thrillers.

Gone Girl

Not all Shakespeare is dark and murderous. Shakespeare surrounds us and I particularly love this monologue by Christopher Gaze the Artistic Director of the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver.  I hope you like it as much as I do.

More tomorrow…

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