‘Ham­let’ at the Ade­laide Fes­ti­val


No­table men­tions

Blackie Blackie Brown (STC, Malt­house)

The Re­sistable Rise of Ar­turo Ui (STC)

A 24-Decade His­tory of Pop­u­lar Mu­sic by Tay­lor Mac (Mel­bourne Fes­ti­val) “Clas­si­cal” or “art” mu­sic prac­ti­tion­ers are no longer house­hold names in Aus­tralia, but if they were, con­tem­po­rary com­poser Brett Dean would be one of them. He is prob­a­bly bet­ter known in Ger­many, where he played vi­ola with the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic Orches­tra for years. Since then, he has been climb­ing heights in­ter­na­tion­ally in the sym­phonic and opera worlds.

Dean’s sec­ond opera, an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Shake­speare’s Ham­let, was com­mis­sioned by the famed Glyn­de­bourne opera fes­ti­val in Eng­land – its first new opera in years. Ham­let pre­miered there last year, and in Aus­tralia at the Ade­laide Fes­ti­val in March.

The mu­sic in Ham­let is sharp, ab­stract and yet lyri­cal. It is far mel­lower and more ac­ces­si­ble than that of Dean’s first opera, Bliss (based on Peter Carey’s novel). The vo­cal lines are longer, the or­ches­tral mu­sic more rhyth­mic, and it shifts gears more elo­quently to il­lus­trate and in­ten­sify dra­matic shifts on stage.

Cana­dian li­bret­tist Matthew Jo­ce­lyn, the only non-Aus­tralian on the team, has el­e­gantly fil­leted Shake­speare’s words, ab­bre­vi­at­ing them, ar­rang­ing them more apho­ris­ti­cally and gen­er­ally tak­ing all kinds of lib­er­ties that nei­ther lose the sense of the orig­i­nal nor com­pete with Dean’s mu­sic.

The pro­duc­tion, di­rected by Neil Arm­field and de­signed by Ralph My­ers, was vis­ually stately yet emo­tion­ally in­tense. Ham­let was a layabout with a sense of hu­mour mask­ing his in­tense in­ner fu­sion of parental jeal­ousy and ex­is­ten­tial angst. Gertrude was a nervy hys­teric. The char­ac­ter em­phases were both tra­di­tional and up­dated, and the ex­cel­lent singers were clearly

cho­sen for their act­ing chops as well. Al­lan Clay­ton, who sang in both venues, was a bril­liant Ham­let.

In Glyn­de­bourne, Vladimir Jurowski con­ducted the Lon­don Sym­phony Orches­tra, both in­ter­na­tional draw­cards. Here, an ex­panded Ade­laide Sym­phony Orches­tra, the State Opera Cho­rus and Syd­ney’s Song Com­pany were su­perb.

Dean’s Ham­let is an opera for both afi­ciona­dos and those who say they don’t like con­tem­po­rary in­car­na­tions.

Miriam Cosic

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