Shakespeare’s plays have frequently been the source of operas. Almost as frequently the operas have been only modest successes. Notable exceptions are those by Verdi – Macbeth is a fine work while Falstaff and Otello are masterpieces. (Experts will disagree about which is the greater; for me, it is Otello hands down.) Hamlet hasn’t fared too well; in Paris in 1868 Ambroise Thomas premiered his version which critics said should have been named Ophelia as she had become the principal character. It has attracted some increasing interest in recent years and was performed by The Australian Opera in 1982. But now there is a new Hamlet by Australian composer Brett Dean. Its premiere this year by Glyndebourne Festival Opera was hailed as a major success. The Sunday Times called it ‘the operatic event of the year’.
Brett Dean’s librettist is Matthew Jocelyn; he uses only Shakespeare’s words, abridged, reconfigured and reassigned. At Glyndebourne, the production had an Australian creative team led by Neil Armfield as director, sets by Ralph Myers and costumes by Alice Babbage. Great news that this production is being brought to next year’s Adelaide Festival with the original tenor, Allan Clayton as Hamlet joined by Australian sopranos Cheryl Barker (Gertrude) and Lorina Gore (Ophelia). The Telegraph said ‘Brilliant music, rapturously received’, even The Speccie said ‘A polished piece of work, wondrously refined’.
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