Animal Farm

5 reasons to look forward to... Animal Farm

20 March 2023

1. Opera adaptation of George Orwell’s masterpiece

Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950), better known by his pen name George Orwell, was a British writer, journalist, essayist and literary critic. Among his best-known works are the two books he wrote towards the end of his life: Animal Farm (1945), a satirical parable, and 1984 (1949), a dystopian novel. Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a thematic parable about the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into Stalin’s dictatorship, but even today the satirical tale is painfully relevant.

2. New composition by Alexander Raskatov

It is not the first time that Russian composer Alexander Raskatov (b. 1953) has adapted a literary masterpiece into splendid musical theatre. He did the same with A Dog’s Heart in 2010. That work was so successful that DNO reprised the production in 2017, which is exceptional for contemporary operas. While A Dog’s Heart had only one animal protagonist, i.e. the title dog, Raskatov gave voice to a whole host of farm animals in Animal Farm. ‘I’ve managed to give all animal groups a musical idiom of their own, without simply resorting to imitating their animal sounds because opera surely isn’t an animated comic strip,’ Raskatov says of his composition.

3. Director Damiano Michieletto

As soon as she heard that Italian director Damiano Michieletto was interested in turning Orwell’s Animal Farm into an opera, Sophie de Lint knew who should be the composer. She put Michieletto and Raskatov in touch and a dream team was born. Rather than setting the opera on an idyllic farm in the English countryside, Michieletto decided to stage it in a slaughterhouse where the relationship between people and animals is fraught with tension.

4. A cast of Dutch as well as international singers

Raskatov uses three adjectives starting with the letter E to describe his opera: energetic, eccentric and extravagant. That is why his composition calls for opera singers who bring personality and boldness to their performance and play their role with abandon. Many of the cast members are Dutch. They include Helena Rasker as Clover, the good-natured horse, Marcel Beekman as Mr Jones, the displaced farmer, Francis van Broekhuizen as Mrs Jones, his wife, and Frederik Bergman as Mr Pilkington, the owner of neighbouring rundown Foxwood farm.

5. Spectacular sets, props and masks

Michieletto’s production situates Orwell’s novella in an ominous slaughterhouse, full of carcasses and with an actual meat grinder. The singers who portray the rebellious animals all wear handmade masks. These masks were designed not only to look glorious, but also to be light-weight enough to wear.

  • Animal Farm was on from 3 till 6 March in Dutch National Opera & Ballet.