Swanhunter at Linbury Studio Theatre
Swanhunter is a small-scale opera, in which music and puppets bring to life an enchanted world of magical creatures. Created in 2009, it is inspired by a story found in Kalevala, a collection of Finnish folktales. Playwright Alasdair Middleton was sure that a narrative in which singing has mystical properties was destined to become an opera; thus he created, along with composer Jonathan Dove, a fairytale that is a celebration of music.
In a cold, mountainous land, four campers tell each other stories around their campfire. As they relate the account of the Swanhunter, the events begin to unfold around them. The protagonist is an adventurer, Lemminkäinen, who announces that his next quest is to procure himself a wife. Believing that the most attractive women are to be found in the North, he sets out in that direction, against his mother’s wishes. In the North, he encounters wild dogs and angry men ready to attack him, resorting to singing in order to charm his enemies into submission. When he meets the witch Louhi, he resolves to marry one of her daughters. Louhi promises to give her consent, but first she sets him one trial after another to test his character. The action takes a darker turn as he finds himself facing menacing creatures and risking his life, until an unexpected event gives the story a new twist.
The strength of Swanhunter is the direct storytelling, coupled with the use of puppetry; its beauty is in the rousing of emotions by these inanimate objects, simply in the way that they are handled by the puppeteer. Camping equipment is used as a prop to form the shapes of the frightening creatures, reminding the audience of the incredible versatility of this art form. A small ensemble of musicians shares the stage with the performers: their contribution to the overall atmosphere is significant, especially when the music and puppets’ actions are in perfect synchrony.
Jonathan Dove believes that the appeal of opera is in its rawness. He explains that “because there is no microphone, nothing comes between you and the spirit of the singer. You can hear the heart and mind of another human being. It’s a kind of magic.” And the magic of music is certainly felt in Swanhunter, capturing adults and children alike, as it gracefully combines the engaging power of puppetry with the wonderful charm of opera.
Swanhunter is at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House from 2nd until 11th April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.