Dean’s Hamlet, a truly great Dane
Seventy summers ago Glyndebourne had a big hit with the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s rustic comedy Albert
Herring. It’s been a long wait for another one, but Brett Dean’s
Hamlet is surely, like Herring, built to last.
There were moments when I wished Verdi had written the music. But overall Dean’s writing, especially for the orchestra, is vivid and imaginative, with some truly unforgettable moments you don’t often get in contemporary opera.
Ophelia’s sexually charged Mad Scene is brilliantly com- posed by Dean, and performed by the young Jennifer France. She also contributes a memorable descant to ‘There is a willow aslant a brook’ from Gertrude (Louise Winter – first class).
Dean and his colleagues never forget the humour. The arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, for instance, works brilliantly, as the two excellent comic counter tenors Rupert Enticknap and James Hall blunder around; impressive both musically and dramatically.
Hamlet is a team effort, emerging from a huge amount of work by Dean, his librettist
Matthew Jocelyn (who reworked the play so that every word is by Shakespeare although some are changed around) and director Neil Armfield (whose modern-dress production has atmospheric sets by Ralph Myers that are a perfect fit for the music). Indeed, Armfield slickly covers over some bits, especially in the overlong first act, when Dean’s musical inspiration sags a bit. A haircut here would not go amiss.
David Butt Philip, Laertes in the summer run, steps up to contribute a terrific Hamlet. This young man has the talent for an important international career. Other supporting roles are also well taken, with William Dazeley an often overwhelmed Claudius, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts an egregious, insinuating Polonius, and Rupert Charlesworth a charismatic Laertes.
A word of praise too for Andrew Greenan, who stepped in at the last moment as the Ghost and the Gravedigger.
In the pit, young Duncan Ward and his orchestra were rightly cheered. This Hamlet doesn’t just deserve your attention, it demands it.
Above: David Butt Philip as Hamlet. Left: Jennifer France and Louise Winter