Simanaitis Says

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HAMLET IN MODERN DRESS” has become a cliche of untraditional theater and opera. Here are a few tidbits about several innovative efforts. In fact, one of the performances, Mozart’s opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, will be streamed April 8, 2020, to the comfort of our own social-distancing.

Nontraditonal Hamlets. The Prince of Denmark has been attired in other than doublet and hose. In 1911, Tsubouchi Shōyō’s Hamlet blended Japanese Shimpa (“New Style”) theater with Kabuki. In 1922, John Barrymore’s Freudian Hamlet swapped Elizabethan garb for something akin to today’s Goth.

John Barrymore’s Prince of Denmark, 1922.

Tyrone Guthrie’s Hamlet was performed at London’s Old Vic in 1937–1938 with its star Alec Guinness in modern dress.

Alec Guinness’s Prince of Denmark, 1938.

In a 1964 John Gielgud directed Hamlet performed in the guise of a play in rehearsal. Star Richard Burton was dressed in v-neck sweater and slacks.

And in the Paul Temple and the Spencer Affair radio mystery, 1965, its theater impresario Rupert Dreisler is famed for having staged “Hamlet… in modern dress.”

Innovatively Located Seraglios. Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, The Abduction from the Seraglio was first performed in 1782, a time when Europeans were enthralled with things Turkish, including the concept of harems.

Konstanze and her English maid Blonde are captured by pirates and sold into the harem of Bassa Selim, the Pasha. Belmonte is a Spanish nobleman betrothed to Konstanze; his servant Pedrillo, to Blonde. Together, the guys take on the rescue of their fiancées. Osmin is the Pasha’s henchman who has the hots for Blonde, though eventually the Pasha….

Traditional productions of Abduction feature gauzy harem outfits, billowy garb for the Turkish men, and Belmonte and Pedrillo suitably noble and servile, respectively. Mozart’s setting was the Pasha’s country house in sixteenth-century Turkey.

Orange County’s Orient Express. In 2003, Wife Dottie and I enjoyed our Orange County’s Opera Pacific production of Abduction set on the Orient Express travelling from Istanbul to Paris in the 1920s. Wife Dottie, who has travelled on the Orient Express, tells me the train’s interior was particularly well rendered.

Opera Pacific’s Abduction on the Orient Express. Image from The Orange County Register.

With innovative stage craft, the Orient Express’s progress through a station was artfully staged by people on the upstage station platform being moved laterally opposite to the train’s simulated direction of travel. (A similar concept is employed in Disneyland’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye.)

POP’s Trekkie Abduction. In 2016, Pacific Opera Project transformed Abduction from Turkey to “boldly … where no man has gone before.”

Pacific Opera Project’s Abduction, streaming our way at 5 p.m. on April 8, 2020.

POP, as it’s known familiarly, is a Southern California opera company that has given us Mozart’s Magic Flute set in the video-game world of “Super Mario Brothers,” “Donkey Kong,” and “The Legend of Zenda.” The company postponed its Mozart Cosi Fan Tutte (with a Revolutionary War theme) until the spring of 2021.

To help with our social distancing, POP has set up free streaming of earlier productions through its Youtube access. For a full schedule, see

Commanding Officer James T. Belmonte is in charge of defeating those klingons. And guess who’s his pal. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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