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Saturday, 14 November 2009

How to write child-friendly fairy tale opera (keep it nasty, brutish and short)

If you're looking for a show to take children to this Christmas your first thought might not be opera, but in yesterday's Guardian, Johnathan Dove, the composer of two fantastical operas that are being performed for the festive season, explained why fairy tales are the perfect inspiration for opera that children can enjoy:

Family-friendly opera must be nasty, brutish and short – and go easy on the slow passages

In the article he says that 'opera thrives of fairytales' but explains that, when first working with writer Alasdair Middleton on a family-friendly opera three years ago, their first choice for an adaptation, Donkeyskin, hit upon some obstacles;
It begins brilliantly, with a donkey that produces golden faeces – just the thing for a family show, we thought. Then the king decides he wants to marry his daughter (she eventually escapes in the donkey's skin). That was an insurmountable obstacle: the producers agreed with us that this could be told as a funny scene, but they knew that no teacher would bring their class to see it, for fear of the rather tricky questions they might get asked afterwards.

Instead they used The Enchanted Pig, which was an enormous success at the Young Vic and will be performed this year at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio from the 10th December - 2nd of January.

The Enchanted Pig is a Romanian fairy tale about a princess who must marry a pig - a pig who luckily turns into a prince at night - and her journey to save him from the enchantment. The quest shares similarities with East of the Sun West of the Moon, and the beginning of the tale, with its forbidden room, resembles Bluebeard.

Andrew Lang included a version of The Enchanted Pig in the Red Fairy Book, which you can read here.

Swanhunter is a new production, touring with Opera North until the 13th December. The story is taken from the epic Finnish poem The Kalevela - which was compiled in the 19th century from Finnish and Karelian folklore - and follows Lemminkäinen as he undertakes a series of tasks to win a wife. Whilst trying to shoot a swan he is killed, dismembered, and thrown into the River of Death, but his mother reassembles his body and brings him back to life.

You can read the tale which is usually referred to as 'The first Lemminkäinen cycle' (runes 11-15), here.

Even if you can't see the shows I hope you still enjoy the tales.

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