Platform 3 is a joint Buxton Festival/Buxton Opera House initiative to encourage community participation 'in all aspects of the theatre and music arts', and in particular to provide opportunities for 'young singers, directors, musicians, designers, producers and actors'. If this is typical of the quality of work they're capable of, then I'm looking forward eagerly to seeing more – Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton, UK, 10 July 2021.
And with The Enchanted Pig they made a canny choice for their launch production. Jonathan Dove's score might feel too eclectic in style for some tastes, but he makes it all hang together seamlessly. Allied to Alasdair Middleton's witty libretto, it is a masterclass in how to write a fairy-tale opera for the 21st century.
The plot combines elements of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, with passing references to other stories along the way. King Hildebrand goes off to war, leaving his three daughters at home, warning them not to open the mysterious locked door at the end of the passage. Well, of course they do, and they find the Book of Fate, which prophesies who they will marry. For Mab and Dot it's the Kings of the West and the East, respectively, while Flora is to marry a pig from the North. She is horrified, but goes home with him and he is transformed into a handsome king. But then an Old Woman arrives, claims him as the rightful fiancé of her daughter, Adelaide, and spirits him away. Flora must wear out three pairs of iron shoes as she travels the earth and sky to look for him. You don't need me to tell you that love overcomes the Old Woman's magic in the end, and it all works out happily.
The cast of hugely talented young singers had a wide range of musical backgrounds between them, but instead of pulling in different directions, their team work was remarkable. Touchingly hesitant as she slowly warms to the idea of marrying the Pig, Katherine Macaulay made Flora a figure of real integrity, in contrast to her sisters Dot and Mab - Molly Sprouting and Freya Parry - all frivolous mischief. Parry also doubled as Adelaide, making a real showstopper of what has become known as the 'Tiara Aria', throwing a tantrum as the preparations for her and the Pig's wedding fail to meet her exacting requirements.
Verity Stroud was the dark, hooded figure of The Book, hinting just enough at the Old Woman's menace, and joined Dominic Carver in the delightful we-fight-but-deep-down-we-love-each-other duet as Mr and Mrs Northwind, another standout number.
As the Pig, Jonny Reynolds convincingly persuaded Flora, and the audience, to sympathise with his plight, trapped in the Old Woman's spell.
Thomas Clough was a blustering King Hildebrand.
Dexter Drown and Harry Dichmont made good-hearted figures of the two Kings. Dichmont was also an amusingly louche Sun, well matched by Grace Gammell as his fiancée, Day. Tom Green was a delightfully fey Moon.
Director Nick Bond steered everyone deftly around the minimal set. Ellie Klouda's designs included wrapping three of the cast in fairy lights as the Milky Way, which Flora has to visit on her journey, the production's most magical, unforgettably striking visual image.
The six-piece instrumental ensemble, with conductor Katherine Stonham, not only supported the singers superbly, but also highlighted Dove's many vivid sound-images as appropriate, not least the blaring trombone motif that announces the Pig's entrances.
First staged in 2006, The Enchanted Pig already feels destined for classic status, and this production will have helped it on its way enormously.
Copyright © 23 July 2021