Review: Hamlet, Glyndebourne on Tour, Norwich Theatre Royal

Glyndebourne Tour production of Hamlet. Photo: Bill Cooper

Glyndebourne Tour production of Hamlet. Photo: Bill Cooper - Credit: Bill Cooper

Glyndebourne's touring version of new opera Hamet is truly top-notch, says Eve Stebbing.

Hamlet is the first opera to be commissioned by Glyndebourne for almost ten years. When the piece was premiered in the summer, it was to whoops of joy and standing ovations.

The show has all the ingredients of a hit. Despite the inevitable change of staff for the UK tour, it is a truly top-notch affair. Conductor Duncan Ward has marshalled the forces of the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra, extracting a performance that brings light to this dark music.

Although much has changed since its first outing, some may still complain of a relentless bleakness. But nothing detracts from the fabulous buzz in the auditorium as we all sit down for the creepy sounds that usher in Act 1. The ominous, electronic rumblings are actually a tam-tam being stroked with a hard rubber ball.

Composer Brett Dean's work has been compared to the Austrian expressionist Alban Berg, and the sound world is immediately reminiscent of Berg's Wozzeck. Dean is wonderfully playful with Shakespeare's soliloquies, translating them into time-stopping arias, in which psychological truth marries perfectly with complex musical ideas.

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Small-scale ensemble work is deftly handled. The music creates a sense of symmetry and space that flows naturally into Director Neil Armfield's well-balanced staging, and Ralph Myers' set is a silver-screen vision of muted tones and ghostly greys.

Centre of it all is David Butt Philip as Hamlet. His is a performance that mixes the comic with the tragic to great effect. Part-clown, part-romantic lead, this vocally-supple tenor has the part nailed.

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In the original production, I felt the characters were oddly disconnected, and that the storytelling lacked drive. On tour, that's changed. Above all, Hamlet's relationship with his father has been put back centre-stage, returning the heart to this soul-wrenching tale.

Of course, I can't claim that it's not all rather grim. No happy endings here, I'm afraid - apart from the relief of seeing the architecture of an exciting new opera really fall into place, bravo.

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