No one could accuse Brett Dean of being predictable. His first opera, an adaptation of Peter Carey’s 1981, award-winning novel Bliss, couldn’t have been a more up-to-date affair. A darkly comic tale of modern families, midlife crisis and the pointlessness of the rat race, it told its tale over a leisurely three hours and was roundly applauded at its 2010 Sydney premiere and subsequent transfers to Hamburg and Edinburgh. It’s perhaps surprising then that for an intended two-hour follow up, Australia’s apostle of the new should turn to perhaps Shakespeare’s wordiest challenge: Hamlet.

“I was daunted by the idea at first,” admits Dean, chatting at length over the phone from his home in Germany where he’s lived since he left Brisbane in 1984 to join the viola desks of Herbert von Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic. But in fact, the idea to do a Hamletopera wasn’t Dean’s at all.

Brett Dean at rehearsals for Hamlet Brett Dean at rehearsals for  Hamlet. Photos © Richard Hubert Smith

Glyndebourne, Britain’s musical powerhouse set on the Sussex Downs, had already sounded him out, but despite drawing up a long list of options, nothing seemed to fit. It...