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.
There’s been a lot of opera related programming broadcast on BBC TV recently. Probably the biggest event was Jonas Kaufmann’s role debut as Otello in the Verdi opera conducted by Antonio Pappano but there’s also been a 90 minute documentary on Kaufmann and a two part series called Lucy Worsley’s Nights at the Opera and a broadcast of Brett Dean’s new Hamlet from Glyndebourne. I haven’t yet watched the Hamlet but here are some thoughts on the other three shows, plus an extra bonus.
Yes subtitles can be a bit dodgy but the one above is actually from a very good PBS segment on Eric Owens. You can see it here. Or you can just enjoy this snap of him with two lovely ladies on the opening night of Hercules at the COC a little while ago.
Pappano’s Classical Voices is a series of four TV programmes that aired on the BBC last November. I’ve just rewatched it and I’m even more impressed than I was first time around. It’s fronted by Tony Pappano, the Royal Opera’s music director, and he comes across as committed, likeable and inquisitive. Each show features a different voice type and combines archive footage with interviews with contemporary singers. There’s tons of information on how different voice types developed and also a surprising amount of technical singing stuff. This may be a bit ho hum for professional musicians but for amateurs seriously interested in how singers do what they do it’s really interesting.
Historical singers featured range from Maria Callas and Kathleen Ferrier to Enrico Caruso and Tito Gobbi. Interviewees include Anna Netrebko, Felicity Palmer, Sarah Connolly, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel and John Tomlinson. There are many more in both categories. Other highlights include Tony Pappano taking a singing lesson from Thomas Allen.
I have no idea how one might lay hands on these shows as they are not available on DVD or iPlayer but if they do come your way, grab them.