Podcast: Brett Dean's Hamlet

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been realised in thousands of versions.

Now composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn have created an operatic retelling, which has its world premiere at Glyndebourne Festival 2017.

In this episode of the Glyndebourne podcast, the pair discuss the creative process, and we hear from from tenor Allan Clayton, who plays the Danish Prince this summer, plus Shakespeare scholar Ann Thompson.

Listen in full, or read the blog below.

Presenter: Katie Derham. ​​Produced by Katherine Godfrey for Whistledown Productions for Glyndebourne Festival 2017. Extracts from Brett Dean’s From Melodious Lay, commissioned and recorded by BBC Radio 3 and given its world premiere by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joshua Weilerstein at the Barbican on Tuesday 1 November 2016. With thanks to the Barbican Centre and the Corporation of London. Music is courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Limited.


“There is no such thing as Hamlet

Shakespeare’s Hamlet exists in three original versions – the first or so-called ‘bad’ quarto, the second or ‘good’ quarto and the First Folio, the most fully realised version of the play.

In between these versions there are line changes, sections moved and added – it’s Shakespeare revising his work over three decades.

For Brett Dean and Matthew Jocelyn, these rewrites were liberating.

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew. ‘There is no definitive text of Hamlet upon which all scholars agree, and all people of the theatre agree, and so we just allowed ourselves to pick and choose.’

The opera is the result of several years of work and shorter study pieces produced by Brett and Matthew, which explore themes and moments from the play.

‘For both of us it was an important step then to try a smaller piece to come to terms with that, to feel how the text felt from a setting point of view.’ says Brett.

Brett Dean in a Hamlet workshop at Glyndebourne. Photographer Sam Stephenson.


The appeal of Hamlet

For an actor, playing the part of Hamlet can make your career. John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, David Tennant, Mark Rylance, Samuel West, Maxine Peake – They’ve all taken on the role of the Danish Prince to great acclaim.

The appeal of this great character was not lost on tenor Allan Clayton, who takes the title role in this new opera.

“The opportunity to play this role, known as the most tricky, if not the hardest Shakespeare male role, was one that I couldn’t possibly pass up, even though I was aware that it was going to be quite a challenge.”

Allan Clayton as Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia at Festival 2015. Photographer Robbie Jack.


High expectations

Undertaking a new Hamlet opera inevitably brings with it high expectations from an audience, many of whom will know this almost ‘sacred text’ inside out.

‘I hope they get a thrilling night in the theatre,” says Brett. “I hope it’s chilling and funny and heartbreaking.’

For those involved in the opera’ creation, Hamlet is a ghost that won’t rest.

‘It will never leave me entirely,’ says Matthew Jocelyn. ‘I will always be grateful for having had the opportunity to spend two and a half, three years really getting my hands dirty with this material.’


Hamlet opens at Glyndebourne Festival 2017 on 11 June.

The Glyndebourne podcast features a growing library of episodes that delve into the music and magic of some of the greatest operas ever written – view more episodes here.