Hamlet: behind the scenes of the world premiere

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One of the most eagerly anticipated productions of this year’s Festival is Brett Dean’s Hamlet, which receives its world premiere in June.

In this short video we go behind the scenes to see how rehearsals are progressing, with comments from director Neil Armfield, singers Allan Clayton (Hamlet) and Sarah Connolly (Gertrude) and setdesigner Ralph Myers.

View a gallery of photos from the Hamlet rehearsals

‘The best story in the world’

‘It’s the best story in the world, this story of murder and revenge, of love, of frustration, of family, of paranoia’ says director Neil Armfield of Shakespeare’s timeless tale. ‘You feel a weight of expectation with this being a world premiere and with it being a story that everyone knows but the thing with a new opera is that it’s an extremely evolving process. It’s wonderful for Brett because he sees all sorts of surprises that he hadn’t imagined in the way that the work opens up’.

Singer Sarah Connolly agrees, ‘It’s a collaborative effort, it’s a team effort… Everything is changing daily, it’s moulding itself and we are helping mould it’.

The design of the production has evolved along with the music. ‘The piece was being written as we designed it’ says designer Ralph Myers, ‘so I deliberately designed a set that allowed anything to take place. That means we’re working a lot in rehearsals to figure out how to use it’.

Having the composer in the room

Composer Brett Dean in rehearsals for Hamlet. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

Working on a piece by a living composer is a very different experience to working on the established operatic works that many singers are used to. For Allan Clayton, working alongside Brett Dean has huge advantages: ‘Given that we’ve got the composer in the room we’re not thinking “oh what did Mozart think when he wrote this?” – we can turn to Brett and say, “oh you’ve left three bars here, what was that for?”’

‘I’ve never been pushed harder in a role than this’ says Allan, ‘musically it’s very exacting, on top of the dramatic expectations [so] it’s terrifying but good fun at the same time. If you’ve listened to Brett Dean’s music before, his sound world is so incredible. I think you feel surrounded by it’.

Sarah Connolly and Allan Clayton in rehearsals for Hamlet. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

‘You’ve got this crack team of performers, a really wonderful conductor and a really wonderful crew… I can’t imagine how it could be better’.
– Ralph Myers, Hamlet Set Designer

Hamlet is on stage from 11 June – 6 July

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You can also see Hamlet live in cinemas on Thursday 6 July

Composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn will discuss how their new opera was created at our Hamlet Study Day on Saturday 17 June at the University of Sussex’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. Places can be booked by telephone +44 (0)1273 815 000