Highlights include Brett Dean’s Hamlet, a Shakespeare adaptation akin to House of Cards, and an immersive German Requiem.

After the record-breaking success of their first Adelaide Festival this year, which achieved the highest box office in the Festival’s history, Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy have revealed their programme for 2018 – and once again there is an exciting mix of international and Australian work, with an acclaimed opera as the centerpiece. The Festival Board also used the occasion to announce that it has extended the contracts of the two joint Artistic Directors until 2021.

As previously announced, Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera Hamlet, which premiered to rave reviews at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in June, directed by Armfield, will open the Adelaide Festival on March 2.

Allan Clayton as Hamlet @Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photograph © Richard Hubert Smith

Hailed by the UK’s Sunday Times as “unmissable” and “the operatic event of the year”, Hamlet follows the phenomenal success of Barrie Kosky’s ravishing production of Handel’s oratorio Saul, which launched the 2017 Adelaide Festival, after having also originated at Glyndebourne.

Reviewing the world premiere at Glyndebourne for Limelight, Clive Paget said: “Dean’s Hamlet is a rare thing, an authentic musical interpretation of a play that both enhances Shakespeare and is very much its own master. As an opera for today, it deserves to enter the repertoire.”

“We are very excited that it has been selling even better than Saul which is really thrilling for a new Australian opera,” says Healy. “It’s both an international and an Australian cast. While we can’t announce any major international seasons beyond Adelaide yet, behind the scenes there are some incredibly thrilling announcements about the future of Hamlet. It’s a real coup for Australia that the next season after its premiere is here in Adelaide at the Adelaide Festival. We are really thrilled that an almost all Australian creative team has set the opera world alight with this major show.”

All four performances of Saul sold out before this year’s Festival opened, and with only three performances of Hamlet, it is pretty well guaranteed that there won’t be a ticket left for love nor money by the time the 2018 Festival begins. Hamlet is exclusive to Adelaide.

Human Requiem. Photograph © Stephanie Berger

The centerpiece of the music programme is Human Requiem by Rundfunkchor Berlin (Berlin Radio Choir), one of the world’s great choral ensembles. Devised in 2012 by German playwright Jochen Sandig with his choreographer wife Sasha Waltz, it features a performance of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) using a transcription for two pianos, with the choristers dressed in street clothes.

“The interesting experience of this choral work is that you enter the space without any certainty about who the performers are and who the audience is and when it starts to be sung you realise it is being sung all around you,” says Healy. “At various points the singers get on swings and the music is literally flying through the air. …Those who have experienced it say it kind of redefines what an immersive experience can be, and how you can feel inside the music as if for the first time.”

When Human Requiem was performed at the White Light Festival in New York in 2016, Bachtrack called it “spellbinding”, while The New York Times praised the choir’s “superbly polished and persuasive performance in the round”.

Kings of War. Photograph © Jan Versweyveld

In the theatre programme, Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Kings of War directed by Ivo van Hove makes for a thrilling highlight. Armfield considers the influential Dutch director “one of the greatest directors of theatre in the world today”. Van Hove’s production of Roman Tragedies, which combined Shakespeare’s Roman plays in a continuous narrative, was a big hit at the 2014 Adelaide Festival. Kings of War conflates Henry V, Henry VI Parts I, II and III and Richard III in a four-and-a-half hour epic set in a contemporary war room, where political brinkmanship and the wielding of power is filtered and mediated through the 24-hour news cycle.

In a five-star review, The New York Times said: “Kings of War takes the home-viewing pleasures associated with serial television portraits of cutthroat schemers, like those in House of Cards and The Sopranos, and magnifies them to the proportions of grand opera.”

The opening weekend of the Festival will go off with a bang with The Lost and Found Orchestra from the British creators of STOMP. Originally created for Brighton Festival in 2006, and directed here by STOMP’s Luke Creswell with Australia’s Nigel Jamieson, it features a 45-piece orchestra playing instruments made from found objects including saws, bottle, water coolers, sticks, hoses and traffic cones, and will be performed in Elder Park.

Lost and Found Orchestra. Photograph supplied

“There’s going to be 700 amateur community musicians and choir members from Adelaide who will join them,” says Healy. “Lost and Found are really keen to create a legacy in creating this work, so it wasn’t just them coming in from the UK and doing their amazing show and flying out again. We have had Adelaide musicians spend the last few weeks in Brighton in the UK learning how to make the instruments, how to play them, how to tune them and they will teach musicians from police bands [and other community bands] how to be part of this extravaganza.”

There will also be a community involvement in Memorial, a new work by Adelaide theatre company Brink Productions. Brink’s Artistic Director Chris Drummond is taking Alice Oswald’s long-form, narrative poem Memorial, based on The Iliad, which tells the story of the Trojan Wars from the perspective of Helen of Troy. Helen Morse will play Helen, while the production will feature a score by UK composer Jocelyn Pook performed live by an ensemble of six international singers and musicians.

“The story is augmented by a choir and an ensemble of 215 people representing each of the 215 deaths that Homer describes in The Iliad,” says Armfield. Drummond will work in tandem with Circa’s Yaron Lifschitz to choreograph the 215 people on stage.

Memorial is a co-commission of the Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne Festivals along with the Barbican and 1418 Now, and is supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.

Thyestes. Photograph supplied.

Other theatre productions in the festival include a revival of Simon Stone’s award-winning Thyestes – a dazzling, contemporary retelling of Seneca’s chilling Greek tragedy, created for Hayloft and then staged by Belvoir. The production will feature the original cast. Robert Lepage’s exquisite 2000 solo play The Far Side of the Moon, which had a brief Sydney season in 2001 performed by Lepage himself, will also return – but this time it will feature a different actor.

From Belgium comes Us/Them performed by youth theatre company Bronks. The hit of the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Us/Them is a response to the terrorist attack on a school in Beslan, Russia in 2004 which left hundreds of children dead, and has had five stars reviews wherever it’s gone. Seen from the perspective of two children, it sounds grim but Healy insists that it isn’t; instead their innocence in the face of adult atrocity is moving, heartbreaking and wholly original.

Dutch live animation company Hotel Modern will use miniature figures and cameras to recreate a battle in France during World War I, telling the story through letters written by a soldier to his mother in a piece called The Great War. The Festival will also present the State Theatre Company of South Australia production of In the Club, a new play by provocative Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius, which shines a light into the darkest corners of the culture in Australian football clubs and examines women’s accounts of sexual violence against them.

The music programme includes Bernstein on Stage, with John Mauceri, a protégé of Bernstein’s and one of his great interpreters conducting the Australian Symphony Orchestra, and recitals by renowned Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter both in the Adelaide Town Hall and at UKARIA, the state’s newest, beautiful chamber music venue at Mount Barker Summit.

Apparently, Anne Sofie von Otter had heard about UKARIA and actually wrote to the Festival saying she would love to perform there. (She is one of “four divas” in the Festival along with Grace Jones, exciting jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and Kate Miller-Heidke who will perform with the ASO).

This year’s UKARIA chamber series is called Compassion: Chamber Landscapes and has been curated by composer Iain Grandage. Featuring the Australian, Goldner and Tinalley String Quartets, the Australia Ensemble and the Balanescu Quartet, it offers a programme that includes music by Elgar, Richard Strauss, Prokofiev, Pärt, Golijov, Vasks, Dean, Bach and Messiaen.

Lior will perform the song cycle Compassion, which he wrote with Nigel Westlake, both at UKARIA and at Adelaide Town Hall, while clarinetist Sabine Meyer and the Alliage Quintett (who perform on piano and four saxophones) will perform at Adelaide Town Hall as part of their Musica Viva tour.

At the heart of the dance programme is Akram Khan performing in his final solo work XENOS, which premieres in Athens in February and then comes direct from there to Adelaide. The Adelaide Festival is one of the co-commissioners of the work – which will only be seen by those commissioning companies.

Akram Khan in XENOS. Photograph: supplied

Next year is the centenary of the Armistice, and XENOS was commissioned with funding from various memorial bodies in Australia and the UK. One of Britain’s most important dancer/choreographers, Khan is known for his unique blend of traditional Indian Kathak and contemporary dance. In XENOS he explores the myth of Prometheus through the experience of an Indian colonial soldier in World War One. It will be exactly 30 years since Khan first performed at the Adelaide Festival as a 14-year old boy in Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata.

The dance programme also includes Bangarra Dance Theatre’s acclaimed new work Bennelong, Lucy Guerin’s Split, and Israel Gálvan, a rock star of flamenco, who subverts the form and pokes fun at Spanish machismo in his piece FLA.CO.MEN.

Nick Steur will perform FREEZE! Photograph © Alastair Bett

Among the many other shows and events on offer is a fascinating sounding piece of performance art called FREEZE! performed by Nick Steur who is from Holland. “He discovered as he was growing up, sitting with his mother who is a sculptor in her studio, that he has this almost supernatural ability to make rocks balance on each other,” says Healy. “It’s a show like none other than you have ever seen. He meditates with the rocks for three hours before each performance and then he picks one up and he proceeds to absolutely defy the laws of physics. You feel like you’ve just watched magic happen.”

The Adelaide Festival runs March 2 – 18