Stage Direction, Set & Costumes Design
OPERA | Goldilocks & The Three Little Pigs
music > Vahan Salorian | Libretto > Dominic Kimberlin | World Premiere at the Copeland Gallery | Goldilocks > Alice Privett | Mom Bear-Pig > Carolyn Dobbin | Dad Bear-Pig > Nicholas Lester | Baby Bear-Pig > Daniel Keating-Roberts | Conductor > Paul Wingfield | Lighting > Clancy Flynn | Production > The Opera Story
Pictures: © Clive Boursnell 2018
> Director’s Note
Once upon a time I forgot my earphones and I was on the travellator between the jubilee and the northern lines at the Waterloo Station. There were so many people walking but I couldn’t hear any human noise. An immense and unreal silence wrapped me and suddenly I was in another world – a place where large tubes underneath the earth moved frozen people from one point to another. We were statues that would come back to life in the end of the travellator. I had never listened to such silence. Humans immersed in their own world. Don’t you think that today we live in a permanent fairy-tale (and I’m not speaking about politics… hmmm yes I could… but no). It’s true! Aren’t we permanently engaged in a non-existing world of virtual friends from all over the world and don’t we change our shape to please or entertain them with the help of that magic wand that we carry in our pocket? Can’t we be dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking emoji’s, trolls, unicorns, witches, and use magic or enchantments? The last time I directed a fairy-tale opera (five years ago) I asked in a note like this to the audience “What happens to us as we get older that makes us forget how good it is to fly?” I could today reply to that same question… the gravitational force of the digital world is just too strong to let me fly as a kid does with just a fish on his hand (in fact the fish is a balloon but he pretends not to know about it).
Once upon a time there was an abandoned slaughterhouse that had animals swaying… those in fact weren’t animals but trees. As we all know we will return as trees again. Yes, we are animals and the trees are some sort of tombs where we are reborn. The message from The Beatles alternative album cover for “Yesterday & Today” was completely misunderstood because baby dolls and meat shouldn’t be mixed together, yes there’s a rule for that. Didn’t you know? Sometimes we can look at an image of a deer skeleton hanging on a tree and think it’s a horrible thing to do to an animal but we don’t read the note where we learn that in fact the deer got stuck on the tree branch during a forest fire. Life can trick us into thinking things that should be like we want them to be… but hey-ho life always finds a way to fuck us once again.
Once upon a time there was a company that makes old stories into new ones that challenge us. For the staging of this fairy-tale I was especially inspired by the audience that reads this text. Yes, I spend some of my time just observing you ;-) … (I felt the need to put a wink there for you not to think that I’m stalking you… but that just made it worse… strikethrough please)… Yes, I love to observe you especially, for example, when on a Thursday evening you run out of the office in your suit and your light blue shirt (I like to call it fairy-tale-blue because since the beginning of time all the innocent characters seem to enjoy wearing it), or when you leave your house in a hurry to buy milk in you pyjamas, or when you look at your phone while I’m trying to have a conversation with you (not at you). It’s so easy to not be understood when we just don’t listen. It’s so easy to not understand someone when we just forgot how to connect. It’s so easy to assume things before actually trying to understand them… Maybe it’s just because we think we don’t have time. Stop. Listen. Engage. Release. Thank you.
“This is the Opera Story’s second show – the company launched itself last year with Snow White. It started as it means to go on – its new opera, Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs, receiving its world premiere, is a further refashioning of fairytale. Getting to Peckham in the snow (the world outside rehearsing a fairytale of its own) with the prospect of sitting in a possibly unheated, concrete-floored gallery was an unpromising prospect, but the moment I stepped inside I was won over by the company’s approach to the evening – in every way. We were issued with plastic ponchos and plastic shoes – I guess it was to keep warm but it also seemed somehow in the spirit of the surreal piece – and sat close to a performance space lit by arctic blue light and within not much more than an arm’s reach of the singers. The space was dominated by a colossal tree trunk – suspended by chains– upon which dainty games of scale are played: Goldilocks’s tiny house is stuck at a tipsy angle amid a mini-forest of broccoli. The playful design is by Pedro Ribeiro, who also directs, and it suits an evening that is, in part, a bold experiment with scale – the opera lasts little more than an hour yet feels epic. We, an audience of Little Transparent Riding Hoods, awaited our fate eagerly as Vahan Salorian’s tremendous music took hold. At the outset, the opera recalls Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – one fancies one can hear Goldilocks making her way through the forest with plucky tread. The score, a hybrid of dark and light, becomes ever more penumbral. The tiny orchestra, conducted by Paul Wingfield, is phenomenal. Extraordinary that with only 10 musicians there should be such orchestral richness. Dominic Kimberlin’s fresh libretto plays havoc with one’s memory of fairytale – blending and stirring Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs/Bears together into an alarming new recipe. Goldilocks – or, if one wants to be literal, Brownilocks – is played by Alice Privett, a superlative soprano. Goldilocks is feral, a forest survivor, punching the tree in her hunger. She is obsessed with family, having lost her own. She inquires: “Did you have a family, little worm?” Who has before seen an opera singer dangle an earthworm near her open mouth? What is so striking again is scale: the majestic score busying itself with the humble worm. Mind you, Goldilocks has larger subjects too: she sings soulfully of the tragic collapse of her house and her dead parents. The three pigs/bears (these beasts are compounds) are the tops. Daddy Bear/Pig (Nicholas Lester) has a tremendous baritone voice and irresistible comic gift – although his intentions are anything but comic. He is dressed in a suit with a half-undone tie and regularly consults his mobile phone. His furry slippers are more bear than pig – suited to an opera red in tooth and claw, a meaty tragedy. Mother Bear/Pig (mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin) is a dab hand at organizing the bloody carcasses Daddy brings home in his wheel-on suitcase and at frying (the delicious smell of tomatoes was strong from where I was sitting). She cooks up a storm with her powerful voice, too. Pure countertenor Daniel Keating-Roberts is little-pig-lost – but don’t trust his innocence a jot. He more than brings home the bacon in this swinish pearl of an opera. ★★★★” > Kate Kellaway | The Guardian Newspaper
“If you don’t want your chocolate-box childhood fairytales to be tarred with (literal) flesh and blood then don’t go and see Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs (…) If you don’t see it, however, you’re missing out. This production is a contemporary, gritty and exciting new work that dares to be gorily different. (…) the performance space is straight out of an episode of Dexter. The walls and floor are adorned in white plastic sheeting, suggesting we are in a kill room. The audience are provided with protective coveralls as if we are all about to be led onto a crime scene to conduct a forensic investigation. It’s actually just to protect our clothes should we get splattered with any of the “bits” that get flung around during the performance.(…) So we’re not quite in Hans Christian Andersen territory here. This is more the realms of Tobe Hooper.(…) Fairytales tend to be seeped in some form of macabre origin. Research anyone and you’ll learn something about it that will chill you. So, in essence, Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs is bringing the fable full circle. That being said, this opera is thoroughly modern and excitingly progressive.” Andrew Bullock | Candid Magazine
“…If Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s Justice League can do it, then so can opera. (…) Thankfully the plot is less cut and dried than in a typical MCU offering. True, Goldilocks wanders through an idyllic wood at the opening, birds a-singing, but there the fairy tale ends. Goldilocks has been orphaned and left to fend for herself.(…) A savage undertone brings the tales viscerally to life, while the throbbing red carcass brought home by Daddy Bear-Pig for the family table, and a subsequent bestial killing, answers the white space of the Copeland Gallery, which practically screams for blood to be spilled. (…) Verdict: A fresh operatic take on two children’s tales that may make you think twice about going down to woods > Edward Bhesania | The Stage Newspaper
“…Two fairy tales collide with uncomfortable results when The Opera Story goes to the dark side.If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise… Because two children’s stories merge into one dark and adult drama, in the second production by innovative company The Opera Story. (…) This is opera in an exciting form – no gowns or brocade, but an immersive, raw, direct and insightful exploration into familiar characters who reveal an unfamiliar side. (…) The score is by Vahan Salorian, with a libretto by Dominic Kimberlin, and the resourceful production is directed and designed by Pedro Ribeiro…“ > Claudia Pritchard | Culture Whisper Blog