A new opera by Australian Brett Dean based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne this summer. A recording of it was broadcast on BBC television on 22nd October. I’ve now had a chance to watch it in full. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it get somewhat mixed reviews. I was impressed. Very impressed. First off, Matthew Jocelyn, who wrote the libretto, and Dean know how to turn a play into an opera. They understand that it’s not just about taking a bunch of dialogue and giving it a soundtrack. What they do is very clever. All the text is Shakespeare but it’s split up and moved around. There’s repetition and sometimes words are reassigned to different characters. Characters sing parallel lines. Then, of course, there’s a chorus. A good example is when the players appear before performing The Death of Gonzago. They get lines taken from various of Hamlet’s soliloquies chopped up and rearranged. It’s effective and allows the main elements of the story to be told in under three hours of opera. The main bit that’s missing is the whole Fortinbras and the Norwegians thing but that often gets cut anyway.
Just been checking out the Glyndebourne 2017 season announcement. Not that I’ll be going or anything but one production did catch my eye. There’s a new Hamlet opera from Brett Dean and Matthew Jocelyn to be directed by Neil Armfield and conducted by Vladimir Jurowski which sounds promising enough but look at this cast: Allan Clayton (Hamlet), Sarah Connolly (Gertrude), Barbara Hannigan (Ophelia), Rod Gilfry (Claudius), Kim Begley (Polonius), John Tomlinson (Ghost of Old Hamlet). There had better be a DVD.
Oh yes and they’ve unearthed yet another previously (more or less) unheard of Cavalli.
Readers of this blog will likely know that Peter Grimes is a very special opera for me. I’ve watched it live and on recordings a lot. I think about it a lot troo so the chance to see it live is rather special. It’s even more special when it’s done as well as at the Four Seasons Centre last night in the opening performance of a new run of Neil Armfield’s much travelled production, revived here by Denni Sayers.
With a month or so to go before the Canadian Opera Company officially announces its 2013/14 season it’s surely time for some uninformed speculation.
There are three big anniversaries in 2013; the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner and the centenary of Benjamin Britten. One would think all would be represented but maybe not. We know Verdi will be. Gerald Finley announced at the Rubies that he would make his role debut in the title role in Falstaff at COC in 2013/14 so we can ink that one in. Britten seems probable. There’s a Houston/COC co-pro of Peter Grimes, directed by Neil Armfield that is due to to come to Toronto. I think we can pencil that one in. No idea on casting but I would love to see Stuart Skelton myself. Wagner, I’m not so sure. Maybe February’s run of Tristan und Isolde will be COC’s sole nod to Wagner. Certainly the next most likely candidate; the Lyon/Met/COC Parsifal is, apparently, not expected before 2015.
The DVD of Opera Australia’s production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is a train wreck. I’m not sure how much of the problem is due to the stage production and how much to the treatment for DVD but the end result is horrible. It’s almost impossible to comment on Neil Armfield’s production because one can’t tell when one is seeing it and when it’s being overlaid or perhaps even replaced by some conceit of the video director. The overall effect is completely incoherent. The barely TV quality picture doesn’t help things.
Musically it’s not good either. The singing is, at best, patchy. The children (Lanneke Jones as Flora and Patrick Littlemore as Miles) do fine and the ghostly pair; Anson Austin and Wendy Dixon, are adequate without being terribly otherworldly. The real problem lies with the Governess of Eilene Hannan and the Mrs. Grose of Margaret Haggart. Both are squally when loud and tending to drop into speech when quieter. Their duets are really hard on the ears. David Stanhope conducts the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. It’s not pretty. This score is hugely rhythmically inventive and the rhythm should drive the thing along. This reading is rhythmic mush. Again, nobody is helped by the recording. The quality of the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is poor. It’s unfocussed and muddy adding to the overall lack of definition.
If you’ve got this far you probably won’t care that there are no subtitles and the only documentation is a chapter listing. There isn’t even a cast list.