Working on operatic versions of Hamlet

Australian composer Brett Dean’s operatic version of Hamlet was premiered at Glyndebourne in June.  It’s a bold new work, which has received many very favourable reviews.

Brett Dean. Picture by Richard Hubert Smith

Current MA student Nick Arratoon has taken the decision to include this piece within his dissertation. Here he writes about the considerations that led to this discovery:

I am writing my dissertation on changing perceptions of femininity and how this is reflected in opera, specifically operatic versions of the Hamlet legend. At first I thought about looking about femininity and opera in general, but quickly realised that is far too broad a topic for a Master’s dissertation. So I narrowed it down to operatic versions of Shakespeare stories (for example Purcell’s Fairy Queen, Verdi’s Otello and Macbeth, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), but this was still too broad. In the end I chose Hamlet, partly because there is a surprisingly large number of Hamlet operas, and also because, during the topic’s gestation period, I became aware of a new Hamlet opera by the Australian composer Brett Dean being premiered in June 2017 at Glyndebourne, and I felt this would be an excellent opportunity to include some research into a completely new work. To this end I have seen the opera in person twice, and am in the process of organising interviews with the composer and the librettist, Matthew Jocelyn, as well as a few of the principal artists, including Sarah Connolly who plays Queen Gertrude, and Barbara Hannigan who plays Ophelia. I am particularly interested in finding out what Dean and Jocelyn have in mind regarding the female characters (what sort of women are they? Are they strong and sexually independent, or submissive?), the musical devices Dean employs to portray those ideals of femininity (for example themes, motifs, orchestration, harmony), and what Connolly and Hannigan, as modern women, envisage for these characters, and how this influenced choices during the opera’s development period and during performance. I am also hoping to acquire a score of the opera so I can analyse the work in more detail.

Those who’ve seen the opera comment on its bold adaptation and shattering climaxes. For those not lucky enough to go to Glyndebourne, the opera is on tour this autumn.

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