‘Hamlet’ at the Adelaide Festival
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.