Festival Review: Hamlet

This Hamlet is written by Brett Dean, but contains much of Shakespeare’s well-known text. The libretto is by Matthew Jocelyn and the music is complex. This is a Glyndebourne Festival Opera production, brought to Adelaide for the Festival of Arts.

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Presented by Opera/United Kingdom
Reviewed 2 March 2018

A new opera is quite an undertaking, especially when adapting a well-known script/story. This Hamlet is written by Brett Dean, but contains much of Shakespeare’s well-known text. The libretto is by Matthew Jocelyn and the music is complex. This is a Glyndebourne Festival Opera production, brought to Adelaide for the Festival of Arts.

Although I can appreciate the skill in writing such a piece, this style does not appeal to me and although I may not like the actual music I can recognise the skills of the orchestra who played superbly with this complex score and the talent of the conductor, Nicholas Carter, who exercised wonderful control over the musicians. The State Opera Chorus should also be commended for achieving some very difficult harmonies.

Kudos to Ralph Myers for the clever set design which moved with little distraction and was able to provide such things as onstage grave digging with ease. All of course enhanced by the lighting of David Manion that defined and enhanced the areas of action. All of this brought together by director Neil Armfield, making the best use of the unusual opening which developed so slowly, building tension, and of the volatile last scene with its bloody conclusion amidst its stormy music.

The voices were almost flawless and the characterisations were mostly good. The favourites as always tend towards the comic roles and Kim Begley brought Polonius to life with the over blown importance that the Bard originally gave him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (played by Rupert Enticknap and Christopher Lowery respectively) were an unexpected joy. Their twittering in unison required some difficult harmony work, but was hilarious. Jud Arthur, the gravedigger, ghost of Hamlet’s Father and Player1, kept his very different parts separated. His dry rendition of the gravedigger, mostly spoken, was excellent.

Allan Clayton, in the lead role, was very real and was the strength of this performance. His constant working of the playing area and interactions with the other players worked well.  The grave digging scene and the interplay with the ‘players’ were highlights. Ophelia was vulnerable and unstable, although Lorina Gore’s portrayal was little too ‘out there’ for me. Strong performances came from Ron Gilfry (Claudius), and Samuel Sakker (Laertes), although both sang with strength but consistency of character was not there. Also the long pauses in the first act were disturbing. Cheryl Barker gave a strong interpretation of Gertrude and the bedroom scene with Hamlet was especially well played. A special mention should be made of the accordion player in the ‘entertainment’; James Crabb amused as he accompanied.

Although the music may not be to my taste, this new opera should attract any opera lovers and is certainly a wonderful production that deserves to be seen.

Reviewed by Fran Edwards
Twitter: @franeds

Venue:  Adelade Festival Centre
Season: 2, 4, 6 March
Duration:  3 hrs 15mins
Tickets:  $70 – $289
Bookings:  https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/2018/hamlet

 

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