The Enchanted Pig
nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
February 7, 2010
England's Young Vic and ROH2 are known for producing innovative children's fare alongside their other new work. Now, in collaboration with the Opera Group, they've created another gem with The Enchanted Pig—a wondrous fairy tale opera that's not just for children. In The Enchanted Pig, librettist Alasdair Middleton and composer Jonathan Dove have created a poignant and giddy celebration of love that will delight audiences of all ages.
Under the direction of John Fulljames, the production's aesthetics deliberately collide old with new. Designer Dick Bird's gleaming set takes its circular form from the orrery, an ancient device used to map the universe and chart the planets. Bird modernizes this design with futuristic mirrored panels that readily evoke the opera's multiple locations—various palaces, a garden, the World's End, and the Milky Way. Bird also designed the costumes, which fuse long medieval silhouettes with modern funky details. Hence, the princesses' gowns have flowing sleeves straight out of The Book of Hours, but their skirts are short, ruffled, and made of bright purple and black taffeta, Burberry-esque checks, lace, and fluorescent pink bows. Dove's music mixes bouncy marches with prayerful elegies and rueful meditations reminiscent of Britten.
Things begin on a slightly rocky note. The opening scenes at the palace, which introduce us to intrepid heroine Princess Flora, feel a little too busy, as if they're trying too hard to create instant whimsy. Flora's father and his flunkies, dressed in boxing shorts and armor, blithely sing "War is so much fun!" as they march off to a battle that lasts about five whole minutes, while Flora and her sisters make mischief around the castle. Their silliness, while played with gusto, feels shrill and unconvincing—a marked contrast with the sincere naturalness (and more relaxed humor) of the rest of the libretto.
The opera finds its soul when The Pig makes his first terrifying entrance through the audience. The labored attempts at humor fall away as the libretto focuses on the unlikely love story between Flora and the Pig. Forced by Fate to marry the Pig, (who is really a handsome prince under a spell), Flora finds herself unexpectedly falling in love with him, but when he's kidnapped by an evil sorceress, she must journey to the ends of the universe to win him back. (Think of it as a more cosmic version of "Beauty and the Beast.")
The ensemble perform their roles with aplomb. Karina Lucas, who alternates in the role of Flora with Susan Boyd, sparkles as the Princess, while Simon Wilding brings unexpected pathos to the Pig's longing for love. Beverley Klein shines in the multiple comic roles of the Book of Fate, Mrs. Northwind, and the Old Woman (the evil sorceress disguised cheekily as a Queen Elizabeth II-lookalike, complete with tweed suit, large handbag, and sensible shoes).
In all, The Enchanted Pig is an enchanting theatrical evening (or afternoon) for the whole family.