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.