Adelaide Festival announce Australian premiere of Brett Dean’s opera Hamlet

After dazzling audiences and critics alike at its recent world premiere, produced by the renowned Glyndebourne Festival Opera, in the UK, Neil Armfield‘s production of Australian composer Brett Dean‘s masterpiece Hamlet, conducted by Nicholas Carter, is set to make its Australian debut in March, with an exclusive season at the 2018 Adelaide Festival.

Hailed as “the operatic event of the year” by the UK’s Sunday Times, Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy is given new life in this darkly complex opera that takes the timeless tale of love, betrayal and revenge to new heights with vivid and richly lyrical music and stellar performances from its international cast.

Minister for the Arts, the Hon Jack Snelling welcomed the news saying: “It’s extremely exciting to have Brett Dean’s opera Hamlet coming to the 2018 Adelaide Festival, not only because it will mark the show’s Australian premiere, but because it will showcase the talents of Joint Artistic Director Neil Armfield on home turf once again. The immense response to Saul at the 2017 Festival showed audiences’ hunger for grand scale opera, attracting a huge number of interstate and overseas visitors, and Hamlet will no doubt do the same. I can’t wait to see what else Joint Artistic Directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield have in store for the 2018 program.”

Director and Adelaide Festival Joint Artistic Director Neil Armfield AO said: “Directing Brett’s Hamlet has been one of the richest and loveliest experiences of my career. I was able to build on my memory of the Hamlet we did at Belvoir in 1994, seen in Adelaide in 1995, with Richard Roxburgh, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett and Gillian Jones. Everything seemed to work for us in Glyndebourne: every day was a revelation with Brett’s music meeting the power and wit of Matthew’s libretto with profound and thrilling results. When the audience stood and cheered at the conclusion of the premiere performance we knew we’d witnessed the birth of a great new opera.”

Leading an outstanding cast of international and Australian singers and reprising the title role of Hamlet is British tenor Allan Clayton, hailed as “physically vivid, emotionally affecting, psychologically astute” by The Times (UK), alongside American baritone Rod Gilfry as Claudius and British tenor Kim Begley as Polonius, with leading Australian sopranos Cheryl Barker as Gertrude and Lorina Gore as Ophelia.

Fresh from his exquisite performance as David in Saul at the 2017 Adelaide Festival, American counter-tenor Christopher Lowrey plays Guildenstern to British counter-tenor Rupert Enticknap’s Rosencrantz, alongside Australian singers Sam Sakker as Laertes and Douglas McNicol as Horatio.

Dean’s textured score captures the modernity of this timeless story, with his well-crafted instrumentation supporting thrilling arias, ensembles and choruses, performed in Australia by the State Opera of South Australia chorus and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by its Principal Conductor Nicholas Carter. The musical grandeur of the production will extend beyond the stage, too, with a semi-chorus and extra percussion promising an all-encompassing theatrical experience.

Matthew Jocelyn’s inspired libretto is pure Shakespeare, adhering to the Bard’s narrative thread and using only Shakespeare’s words but abridging, reconfiguring and interweaving them into motifs that playfully and powerfully reveal the main dramatic themes: death, madness, the impossibility of certainty and the complexities and beauty of the human mind. To be, or not to be? This is Hamlet’s dilemma, and the essence of Shakespeare’s most famous and arguably greatest work, here reborn as a spectacular new operatic masterpiece.

Weaving the entire production together is Neil Armfield, one of Australia’s leading international theatre and opera directors and Joint Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival. He has brought together an impressive creative team including Australian set designer Ralph Myers, Australian costume designer Alice Babidge and British lighting designer Jon Clark.

Speaking from America where he is currently composer in residence at the Marlboro Music Festival, Brett Dean said: “Back in 1980, as an 18-year-old viola player in my first season as a member of the Australian Youth Orchestra, I traveled to the Adelaide Festival and participated in a truly international arts festival for the first time. It was a revelation to witness such a gathering of culturally like-minded ‘obsessives’. To be returning as composer of the Adelaide Festival’s featured opera in 2018 is a wonderfully proud moment for me and I wish it and the whole festival every possible success.”

Adelaide Festival Joint Artistic Director Rachel Healy said: “It was thrilling to witness an Australian creative team’s mighty achievements and critical acclamation following Hamlet’s premiere at the globally renowned Glyndebourne Festival Opera. We are utterly delighted that while the great opera houses of the world are waiting in line to include Hamlet in their future programs, its second international season will be on home turf and that, as with Saul, audiences in this country will have an opportunity to celebrate the creative genius of their fellow Australians.”

HAMLET
2, 4 and 6 March 2018
Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
General public tickets on sale: Thursday 31 August
Tickets: BASS 131 246 or adelaidefestival.com.au
Sung in English with English supertitles