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Adelaide Festival to host Australian premiere of Hamlet opera

Adelaide Festival

Following this year’s sell-out success Saul, the Adelaide Festival has announced that its 2018 program will feature another acclaimed operatic work from the UK’s Glyndebourne Festival: Australian composer Brett Dean’s adaptation of Hamlet.

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Like Saul, Hamlet was commissioned by Glyndebourne, where it premiered in June this year.

It is directed by Adelaide Festival joint artistic director Neil Armfield, who has described it as “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 [Matthew Jocelyn’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.”

As Australia’s Daily Review reported at the time, the production received a string of four-star reviews in Britain. Writing in The Times, critic Richard Morrison gave it five stars, saying he hadn’t seen “a more physically vivid, emotionally affecting or psychologically astute portrayal of the Prince of Denmark” than that by British tenor Allan Clayton.

The cast of singers also includes American baritone Rod Gilfry as Claudius, British tenor Kim Begley as Polonius, and Australian sopranos Cheryl Barker and Lorina Gore as Gertrude and Ophelia, respectively. American counter-tenor Christopher Lowrey, who played David in the multi-Helpmann-Award-winning Saul at this year’s Adelaide Festival, fills the role of Guildenstern, alongside British counter-tenor Rupert Enticknap’s Rosencrantz.

Jocelyn’s libretto, described by The Guardian as “reverent but mischievous”, draws from Shakespeare’s original text but abridges and reconfigures the words.

Dean’s score will be performed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of principal conductor Nicholas Carter, with the set designed by Australian Ralph Myers (former Sydney Theatre Company designer and Belvoir St Theatre artistic director).

As an 18-year-old viola player, Dean performed at the 1980 Adelaide Festival with the Australian Youth Orchestra. He says it was the first time he had participated in “a truly international arts festival”: “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.”

Arts Minister Jack Snelling says the response to Saul showed audiences’ hunger for “grand-scale opera”. Tickets to all performances sold out 13 weeks before the 2017 Festival opening, contributing to the biggest box office takings on record.

Brett Dean’s Hamlet is coming to Adelaide. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Hamlet will be presented at the Festival Theatre on March 2, 4 and 6 as part of the 2018 Adelaide Festival.

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