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Essay: The production of Hamlet – sound and music

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There are a wide variety of roles that work together to create a play. These roles include the director, producer, scenic designer, lighting designer, sound designer, and costume designer. Each of these roles have their own important jobs to ensure the play produced is of high quality. The sounds chosen for the audience to listen to are dependent on the vision of the playwright and director. Having a lack of communication between the director, playwright, and sound designer will certainly jeopardize the play and negatively affect the audience. Traditional music may be used in a modern interpretation of a play and vice versa which can take away the audience’s immersion. My name is Christopher Cao, and I am the sound designer for the production of Hamlet. As the sound designer, my job is to heighten the audience’s experience of the play using specific sounds and a large mixture of music. To ensure that I choose the most appropriate acoustics, I needed to work as closely as possible with the director to properly illustrate the sounds he felt the audience should hear not only during the play, but before and after the play as well.

This production of Hamlet will take place at the Boston Opera House located in Boston, Massachusetts. The director specifically chose this theatre because he wanted his production of Hamlet to stand out against all the other previous productions of Hamlet. As the director happens to be friends with the current owner of the Boston Opera House, we were able to obtain a generous discount for the production which allows us to be more flexible with our budget. When I asked the director what the budget was, he said it was eight million dollars. Of the eight million dollars, I was allowed to use $550,000 on sounds and music alone, which grants me a significant amount of flexibility on what sounds and music I can incorporate into the production. Another thing I was told by director was that we must have a live orchestra to play whatever songs I choose for the production as an orchestra adds to the atmosphere of the play. In addition, the director wanted this production of Hamlet to follow as closely to the original story as possible while adding in an orchestra and incorporating elements of opera to make the production unique from earlier interpretations of Hamlet. How the director plans to incorporate opera into Hamlet is to have every soliloquy and monologue in Hamlet to be sung. The actors for Hamlet will be well known opera singers. Then scenes with standard dialogue will use music played by the orchestra alongside ambient noises. The main instruments that will be used for this production will be the violin and the piano as they are appropriate for tragedies and will make the audience emotional during crucial scenes. For the director’s vision, he wanted this production of Hamlet to be as emotional and cinematic as possible while remaining as a play as well as including elements of opera. The director wants music to be used for the majority of the play while relegating ambient noises for scenes involving Hamlet’s father, the ghost and minor scenes that take place at the castle.

Hamlet takes place around the late Middle Ages, from 1300 to 1499, mostly around the royal palace in the city of Elsinore, located in Denmark (Schmoop Editorial Team, 2008). The father of the main character, Hamlet, has died and Hamlet is convinced his uncle Claudius murdered him. After the death of Hamlet’s father, his mother Gertrude remarries to Claudius. The ghost of Hamlet’s father wants Hamlet to avenge his death by killing Claudius. Throughout the play, Hamlet slowly becomes mad and has many internal conflicts about life and death. Initially, he is feigning his insanity but as the play progresses, his insanity becomes real as his affinity with friends and significant other diminishes and other characters losing their lives. According to shakespeare.org.uk, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius is also scheming a plan to kill Hamlet as well. At the end of the play, there is a duel that ends with the deaths of Claudius, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, Hamlet, and his opponent. Elements of opera will be used for soliloquys and monologues and the music used will become more intense over time to symbolize Hamlet’s descent into madness.

Now I will explain how I will enhance this production of Hamlet from the opening, middle, and end using the music and sounds I chose to add. Before the play even starts, I will have the orchestra play a selection of classical music to get the audience settled in and comfortable. The orchestra and the sounds I used totaled at $550,000, which is my entire budget. The classical music that I will be using can be interpreted as relaxing and saddening as well. This allows me to indirectly tell the audience Hamlet is a tragedy while having those new to theatre believe Hamlet is just an ordinary play with a happy conclusion. During the beginning of the play when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears, I will use eerie and mysterious ambient noises such as the wind and tree branches snapping which will represent how the characters as well as the characters have little to no knowledge about this ghost and whether it really is Hamlet’s father. Next, during Act 1, Scene 2 Hamlet’s actor will completely sing the soliloquy while the orchestra plays light music in the background via the violin as to not directly clash with opera element while further enhancing the soliloquy. Then, during the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1 the orchestra will play a melancholy song which will resonate with the audience as the begin to think about Hamlet’s words and how they can relate to today. Act 3, Scene 1’s soliloquy will be one of the most important parts of the production as this is where music substantially adds to the scene. Finally, during Hamlet’s duel in the final act that results in the deaths of Gertrude, Claudius, Hamlet, and his opponent, the orchestra will play an emotional song with the piano being the leading instrument while the violin adds depth. The audience will be struck emotionally and ask themselves what could have been done in the play to lead to a happier ending.

Initially, this production seemed difficult as the director had the unique vision of incorporating opera into Hamlet while keeping the original story and setting. All the music used was played by the orchestra and all the sounds used were natural as to keep the play from feeling artificial. The director’s unique vision would have been near impossible had the budget been significantly less. The decision to hire opera singers to play the characters of Hamlet was also interesting and most likely not possible had the budget been smaller. The production was a tremendous success and praise was directed toward the director’s unique vision and the choice to have opera singers play the characters. Feedback was universally positive from both the audience and critics because the production stuck to the original story while adding in certain elements that enhanced the production.

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