Current Issue #488

‘This be madness’: Adelaide Festival Announces Hamlet Opera as 2018 Centrepiece

‘This be madness’: Adelaide Festival Announces Hamlet Opera as 2018 Centrepiece

Brett Dean’s opera adaptation of Hamlet will make its Australian debut in the 2018 Adelaide Festival, in the first announcement of the festival’s next program.

Following the success of Saul in 2017’s program, Hamlet marks the second Glyndebourne Festival Opera production to come to the Adelaide Festival under artistic directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy. The $2.5 million opera interpretation of the dark Shakespearian tale about death and madness is brought to the stage by Armfield as director, with music by Australian composer Brett Dean, libretto by Matthew Jocelyn, and conducted by Nicholas Carter.

“Directing Brett’s Hamlet has been one of the richest and loveliest experiences of my career,” said director and Adelaide Festival joint artistic director Armfield, who also directed the Bard’s classic with Belvoir Theatre in 1994, which starring Richard Roxburgh, Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett.

In the Glyndebourne production Armfield said he “was able to build on [his] memory” of that production to produce what the UK’s Sunday Times described as “the operatic event of the year” when it made its debut in June.

“Everything seemed to work for us in Glyndebourne,” said Armfield. “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.”


The cast will be led by British tenors Allan Clayton and Kim Begley in the roles of Hamlet and Polonius, American baritone Rod Gilfry as Claudius, and Australian sopranos Cheryl Baker and Lorina Gore as Gerturde and Ophelia. Now familiar to Adelaide audiences from his turn as David in Saul, American counter-tenor Christopher Lowrey will play Guildenstern alongside British counter-tenor Rupert Enticknap’s Rosencrantz. More Australian talent will grace the stage with singers Sam Sakker and Douglas McNicol as Laertes and Horatio.

Further Australian talent is brought to bear in set designer Ralph Myers and costume designer Alice Babidge. Likewise, and as was the case in Saul, choral and musical support will be provided by members of the State Opera and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

It might seem an unenviable task to weave Shakespeare’s text into a musical score, but this opera version of Hamlet only uses the play’s original words. Jocelyn has reconfigured the original script to fit the show’s score and the deeply philosophical story.

Hamlet’s Australian composer Brett Dean, who performed as a viola player in the Adelaide Festival in 1980, said it is an honour to have his work featured.

“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,” said Dean.

In a serendipitous twist of fate, Dean, Armfield, Carter and Gore also previously worked together on Dean’s first opera, Bliss, which premiered in 2010.


Minister for the Arts Jack Snelling was emphatic in his praise for the headline show, saying it is “extremely exciting” to have another opera from Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Neil Armfield locked in for next year.

“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,” said Snelling. “I can’t wait to see what else joint artistic directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield have in store for the 2018 program.”

Festival Theatre
March 2, 4 and 6, 2018
Tickets on sale from August 31 via BASS and

Photography: Richard Hubert Smith

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