Hamlet (Adelaide Festival)

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Michael Halliwell Thursday, 08 March 2018
Published in ABR Arts

It is the fate of nearly all new operas to disappear quickly after an initial run of performances, so it was with much anticipation that Australian audiences had the opportunity to see Brett Dean’s Hamlet, triumphantly premièred at Glyndebourne in June 2017 (I reviewed the opening night for Australian Book Review). The centrepiece of the 2018 Adelaide Festival, the opera has created a real buzz around town, and there was a large contingent from the east coast. Critical reaction to the opera last year was almost uniformly positive – highly unusual for a contemporary opera – so expectations for the three Adelaide performances were high. Did it deliver?

The verdict – resoundingly, yes. Dean tailored the work for the particular acoustic qualities of the Glyndebourne theatre, with its high, atrium-like structure. Parts of the orchestra and chorus were dispersed throughout the auditorium, creating a rich and often eerily strange sound world, with much use of non-traditional musical means. But there was enough flexibility in the score for it to transfer to very different venues for a tour of the United Kingdom. The Adelaide Festival Theatre has a more conventional design, but imaginative use was made of this more limited potential. It is the same production, and Ralph Myers’ elegant and functional stage designs transferred most effectively to the new space.

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Published in ABR Arts
Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell studied literature and music at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, at the London Opera Centre, and with Tito Gobbi in Florence. He has sung in Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia and was principal baritone for many years with the Netherlands Opera, the Nürnberg Municipal Opera, and the Hamburg State Opera singing over fifty major operatic roles, including several world premiere productions. He has served as Chair of Vocal Studies and Opera, Pro-Dean and Head of School, and Associate Dean (Research) at the Sydney Conservatorium. He is Vice President of the International Association for Word and Music Studies. His publications include the monographs, Opera and the Novel (Rodopi: 2005); and National Identity on Contemporary Australian Opera: myths reconsidered (Routledge, 2018), as well as many chapters and articles. He still performs regularly and recent CDs include When the Empire Calls (ABC Classics, 2005); O for a Muse of Fire: Australian Shakespeare Settings (Vox Australis, 2013); Amy Woodforde-Finden: The Oriental Song-Cycles (Toccata Classics, 2014); That Bloody Game; Australian WWI Songs (Wirripang, 2015).

Comments (1)

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    I saw this opera on the opening night of the Adelaide Festival, and I have to admit I did not enjoy it at all. The set design and production values were good, great even. But, the music was flat throughout and provided really just a constant backdrop of plinking and plunking without ever building to a crescendo. The same could be said of the singing which (though technically excellent) was really just Shakespeare's Hamlet in an operatic voice. There were no songs or arias, nothing to provide a focal point in a musical sense--certainly nothing that could ever be released on a "Great Opera Classics" album. Perhaps I am a philistine, but the classic operas we have all seen many times are classics for a reason: great emotion and passion and a performance that builds up into great songs and intense moments--this opera had none of those.

    Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:44 posted by Kym Jackson

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