Wednesday, March 14, 2018 6:38pm
I honestly had no idea what to expect when going to see Hamlet at the Adelaide Festival this week. What I was sure of however, was the fact that I was incredibly excited to see one of my favourite plays reinterpreted, with Shakespeare’s already lyrical text used as the libretto for an opera. I also though had a sense of wariness of how exactly it would make me feel, and whether or not I’d even like it. I knew from reading various reviews beforehand that some people loved it, while others hated it, which if anything made me more curious to see it.
Deciding just a week before that I was definitely going to go, my partner and I just managed to snag two of the last available seats in row D of the grand circle of the Festival Theatre— or up in ‘the gods’ as it is sometimes affectionately known, given the vertigo-inducing height the seats are.
My seat 'up in the gods'
Settling in for the 6pm start, the house lights were dimmed, and the ASO spent a moment tuning before Principal Conductor, Nicholas Carter, emerged from the depths of the orchestra pit and made his way to the podium to start the show.
Visually, I thought it was stunning, and I feel like it conveyed what it needed to. With the raising of the austere, black curtain, before us was revealed a solitary Hamlet standing above his father’s grave. The minimalistic set of a large hall with white walls and ceiling closed in the space, with floodlights pouring in stark white light through windows and doors, casting eerie shadows and setting the scene for one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.
It is the music however, that really made it a memorable night for me. It was a real emotional rollercoaster. Being a tragedy, Hamlet is of course already a poignant play, but as with anything, as soon as you add music to it, what results is something even more powerful and dramatic.
It was done with such intensity and such excitement. Elements such as the sub-chorus singing along in the orchestra pit, and moments when they emerged from doors into the auditorium itself, singing actually in the audience, took the whole experience to a new level.
I’m not sure if you even need a strong or particular interest in Shakespeare to appreciate Hamlet. Personally, it is one of my favourite works of literature, which I know in a way sounds quite strange for a 22-year-old to say; but when you strip it all back to its bare bones, it's really a story that we can all relate to.
Essentially, Hamlet a story about what it feels like when the whole world has turned against you. I think it’s because it so cleverly encapsulates elements of love, family, betrayal, and grief— all of which remain central to our own lives today.
Hamlet does have an unusual sense of relevance some four hundred years after it was written. Even if you have never seen it or have any interest in Shakespeare, the premise of the story has continued to inspire and be replicated in newer forms. Stories such as The Lion King is just one example, which I’m sure more of us are familiar with than Hamlet itself.
In all, this opera was fantastic. There have been so many Hamlet’s on the stage, so it was refreshing to see a whole new take on it that was so unique. I had never heard any music by Brett Dean before, and so I think in terms of modern opera and modern music, Hamlet is a great one to experience.
Opera can sometimes be intimidating, especially if you haven’t seen one before. It can also be an easy thing to stereotype, and feel like it’s for wealthy, old people, but that isn’t at all true. Opera, classical music, orchestral music, all of it really is for everyone. As Kasper Holten, the director of opera at the Royal Opera House in London has said: “opera can make us see, feel and hear the world differently, and remind us about being in touch with the things beneath the surface, the things that really matter”.
So, if anything I would encourage everyone to see at least one opera in their lifetime. We are incredibly lucky here in South Australia to have such easy access to fantastic performing arts organisations such as the ASO, State Opera, State Theatre Company etc. all of which have some great stuff on offer this season. I know that Hamlet will definitely be one of my highlights for the year, and I cannot wait to see some more.
Words: Willem King