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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Lorina’s back for more tough love from Hamlet

Soprano Lorina Gore, the show-stopping star of Hamlet… “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in music, but the most rewarding.” Photo: Tony Lewis/Adelaide Festival

Shakespeare’s Hamlet has got everything – a ghost, plenty of comedy, deep philosophical reflection and, in the spirit of Elizabethan theatre, it’s a rip-roaring revenge tragedy.

To an opera lover then, the prospect of seeing Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera Hamlet is nothing short of breathtaking. 

But the production opening at Sydney Opera House on July 20, with Anglo-German conductor Tim Anderson holding the baton, will have even more fascination for Canberrans, as ANU School of Music-trained divas Lorina Gore and Catherine Carby feature in the principal roles of Ophelia and Gertrude.

Hamlet premiered in 2017 at the Glyndebourne Festival UK and has since been staged at the Adelaide Festival, New York’s Metropolitan Opera and most recently at the Munich Opera Festival.

Very much a product of the Canberra arts scene, Gore cut her teeth as a young girl performing at Daramalan College and with the late Stephen Pike’s cabaret venue Tarzan’s doing light musical theatre numbers and even a bit of rock ‘n’ roll.

With no exposure to opera in her family, it was a work-experience job while at school that brought her in contact with the art form when she enjoyed a week’s placement with Opera Australia in Sydney, spent time in the wardrobe and props departments, sitting in to see David Hobson rehearsing Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice and feeling sure he was singing to her – she was the only one in the audience.

“I didn’t know people could sing like that without microphones,” she says. 

Gore has since established herself as one of Australia’s leading sopranos working in contemporary music although she’s had her fair share of classics, performing Violetta in La Traviata and Musetta in La Bohème, to name just two roles.

She first came to note in the UK singing the title role of Alban Berg’s Lulu and, back here, Honey Barbara in Dean’s earlier opera, Bliss, adapted from Peter Carey’s novel.

Hamlet is another thing altogether and librettist Matthew Jocelyn, who believes it is the greatest literary work of all, has taken sections from different versions of the work to give a contemporary take on the famous play. 

Gore, of course, has the show-stopping role of Ophelia, complete with that stock-in-trade of the operatic soprano, a fabulous mad scene where she appears covered in mud and weeds – “a very demanding role,” she says.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in music, but the most rewarding,” she says. 

“Brett’s music is so difficult that it’s amazing that I’ve come back for a second time.” 

Mind you, her opposite number, British tenor Allan Clayton, as Hamlet, has done it five times and Gore’s Adelaide performance won her a Helpmann award in 2018.

The opera is directed by Neil Armfield. 

“Neil is one of my absolute favourite directors, he has a way of bringing out the authenticity of works,” she says. 

Armfield challenged them to interpret the work in different ways, so that when Hamlet tells Ophelia, “get thee to a nunnery”, maybe he wants to protect her or maybe to offend her, using the more Elizabethan idea that nunnery was another word for a brothel – the ambiguity is in line with Dean’s score, which includes electronic music and cinema-like surround effects.

It’s fascinating to work with the subtle Clayton, she reports, but she’s just as taken with the performance of her stage father, Polonius, by Kanen Breen, who brings another level to the role, showing how Ophelia is controlled and dictated to by men.

Arguably, she says, drowning herself is the only independent thing she’s ever done and this production highlights the misogyny.

After a hard day’s rehearsal Gore sometimes feels exhausted, but works it off by sewing, something her mother taught her to do and that she’s kept up, even making clothes for her son Joshua when he was small.

Returning to Armfield, she says the wonderful thing about his directing is that nothing is ever black-and-white. The same goes for Dean, so there is some hilarious music for the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; “a bit like Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” she says. 

And although as in Shakespeare, not many people come out alive, it’s not all doom and gloom.

“It’s a very beautiful production,” she says, “Ralph Myers’ set is sleek and Alice Babidge has costumed the whole chorus in pale taffeta… It looks classy.” 

Hamlet, Sydney Opera House, July 20-August 9. 


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Helen Musa

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