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O vin, dissipe la tristesse from Thomas' Hamlet/ opera/ music main

The Drinking Song and the Opera

Many of the foremost eighteenth century composers of all the major European countries could not resist trying their hands at a Shakespeare opera. Few turned out totally successful. Perhaps Verdi did best with Falstaff and Macbeth. Among the French, Gounod's Romeo and Juliet is best known, but Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet is still often performed.

The plot is more or less faithful to Shakespeare as opera libretti go. Hamlet sings his drinking song in the second act with the accompaniment of the troupe of players to spook his mother and stepfather in the next scene. In those days drinking songs were almost mandatory in serious operas so composers knew how to make them work. This one is truly splendid, with three verses of baritonal magnificence, backed up by male chorus.

'O wine, dispel the sorrow that weighs heavily on my heart' he sings, underlining the fact that despite the upbeat nature of much of the music, there is a tragic basis to the circumstances. In fact, in this place in the play, Hamlet gives his 'To be or not to be' scene, and much of the suicidal imagery that Shakespeare puts into the soliloquy, Thomas puts into the drinking song

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