About the Opera

    Based on the 1967 play of the same title by Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead retells the story of Hamlet from the point-of-view of two minor characters in the Shakespeare play. Allowed only a highly restricted view of the tumultuous events of Hamlet unfolding around them, and deceived by nearly everyone, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play games to pass the time and tirelessly devise strategies to make sense of their place in the grander scheme. In this, they are like a philosophical Laurel and Hardy, or a postmodern Vladimir and Estragon. The opera takes them from the castle of Elsinore (in Act I) out onto the high seas (in Act II), dispatched to England with Prince Hamlet and in the company of a stowaway troupe of actors. On shipboard they will confront their destinies, and make a crucial choice between friendship and duty.

The opera begins with the celebrated scene of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern alone on stage, flipping coins. The coins always land 'heads' - and have done so for ninety-two flips in a row. We are immediately put on notice that their story will be operating outside the bounds of realism. The opera is peopled by the characters of Hamlet, filled with the incidents of Hamlet, but glossed from a wholly modern perspective. In effect, the significant events of Hamlet are unfolding offstage, just out of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and they are powerless to understand the implications of those events for their fate. When the characters from Hamlet do sweep onto stage, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can do nothing but play their assigned roles from Hamlet verbatim. And there is a wonderful Stoppardian running gag that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are so insignificant as to be indistinguishable from each other. Not only does their good friend Hamlet confuse one for the other; at times, they themselves forget who's who, a confusion the opera happily reinforces by assigning both roles to baritones.