Hampstead Garden Opera is back to present Jonathan Dove’s mesmerising tale, The Enchanted Pig. It was first shown in 2006 at the Young Vic and now, director Laura Attridge instills the fairy tale magnificence on Jackson Lane Theatre’s stage as written by Dove’s librettist Alasdair Middleton. The production secures the opera’s musical glory with a shining cast of brilliant young singers and an ensemble of skilled musicians.
The Enchanted Pig is a unique blend of storytelling for children and interested adults. It’s a delightful fusion of Romanian and Norwegian folktale and much like its diverse origins, the production is kaleidoscopic – a combination of opera, classical music, vaudeville, cabaret, waltz and chorus singing.
A fairyland king and princess fall in love, but sorcery and witchcraft get in their way. The opera’s heroine, Princess Flora has to save her husband king who was kidnapped and transformed into a pig by the wicked Old Woman; her spoilt daughter wants to marry him. The princess wife travels across the milky way to find her ‘pig’ king in the Old Woman’s kingdom and with the magical powers of Sun, Day, and Mr. and Mrs. North Wind, the princess unites with her love and lives happily ever after.
The ensemble and its musical director Hannah Quinn are on the stage for all eyes to see. Just in front of them, the enthusiastic group of eight vocalists sing and perform on the medium size stage.
Attridge’s stage isn’t excessive or fancy, yet it successfully balances the story by depicting multiple locations with less set designs – Isa Shaw-Abulafia’s costumes and Dove’s imaginative music give the audience enough fairy dust to visualise a royal castle, a muddy pigsty and an icy tall mountain to Mr. and Mrs. North Wind’s home. This is the brilliant part of the production!
Dove’s composition portrays different characteristics for each scene and setting. The triumph of love, sung like ‘love is a battlefield’, is done boldly by the young singers, and each character has its own delicate and detailed music. The most heartrending and operatic parts are sung by the princess and the pig.
For the production I saw, Hannah Bennett sang with luscious lyrical lines as Princess Flora. Her Flora was lonely, yet a hopeful and romantic soul. She convinced the audience that Flora shall win over evildoing through her radiant voice. Jack Lawrence-Jones’s Pig was frightening as he entered the stage. With minor chords, ‘predatory leitmotifs’ and a creepy pig’s mask, he sang with great depth and longing for his character to be freed from the Old Woman’s spell.
Stephanie Wake-Edwards is a contralto with a beautiful voice. She performed three parts (Book of Fate, Old Woman, and Mrs. North Wind) with wit and humour. Her duet with Mr. North Wind, sung by Julian Chou-Lambert, was sung with gusto and bravado, reminiscent of a fun-loving musical.
Adelaide aka the Old Witch’s spoilt daughter was gleamingly sung by soprano Rosanna Harrris. Her ‘Tiara aria’ was just as entertaining, divaesque and catchy as one would imagine for an evil bridezilla frustrated that she had lost her tiara.
Alex Haigh sang as both the King of the East and the Moon, yet his ‘lunar’ appearance was much more memorable. With only the music of the harpist, percussionist and Haigh’s sweet-sounding voice, the audience traveled to a serene and tranquil lake with the bright moon’s light reflecting on the water. It’s another gem from Dove’s creative composition.
And soprano Rebekah Smith and Ben Durrant were animated, smiley and fun as the married cosmic characters Day and Sun. Hawaiian shirts and sun shades on, they brought comedy and excitement through their happy love song, which had notes and elements from a vaudeville performance.
HGO’s Enchanted Pig is a lot more than a fantasy children’s opera. Since panto session is coming up, the opera may give you a head start, accompanied with wonderful singing, talented young voices, an intriguing narrative and delightful music performed by excellent musicians.