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Animal Farm

on March 10, 2024
This is the page for the performance on March 10, 2024.
Music Alexander Raskatov Text Ian Burton & Alexander Raskatov
→ Oper in zwei Akten, neun Szenen & einem Epilog

Cast 10.03.2024

Conductor Alexander Soddy
Production Damiano Michieletto
Stage Design Paolo Fantin
Costume Design Klaus Bruns
Choreography Thomas Wilhelm
Lighting Design Alessandro Carletti
Dramaturge Wout van Tongeren Luc Joosten
Old Major Gennady Bezzubenkov
Napoleon Wolfgang Bankl
Snowball Michael Gniffke
Squealer Andrei Popov
Boxer Stefan Astakhov
Benjamin / Young Actress Karl Laquit
Minimus Artem Krutko
Clover Margaret Plummer
Muriel Isabel Signoret
Blacky Elena Vassilieva
Mollie Holly Flack
Mr. Jones Daniel Jenz
Mrs. Jones Aurora Marthens
Mr. Pilkington Clemens Unterreiner
1. Mann von Pilkington/1. Sanitäter Yechan Bahk
2. Mann von Pilkington/2. Sanitäter Michael Mensah
1. Mann von Jones Siegmar Aigner
2. Mann von Jones Benedikt Berndonner

Details

Short summary

The audience will see the premiere of an opera based on Orwell’s classic of the dystopia of a failed liberation struggle. The animals on a squalid farm revolt against their tyrannical owners, but soon come under the rule of a new leader from their own ranks.


Program booklet (2,50€)


Attendance at the performance is only recommended from the age of 14


About the direction

Director Damiano Michieletto has long wished to bring Animal Farm to the opera stage. »The story is simple, a sort of fairy tale which, if you look at it more closely, deals with important issues such as power, oppression and propaganda in a nuanced way. The story is horrible but has comic elements as well. And it allows you to have not only a lot of solo roles but also a chorus«, Michieletto notes. He found the ideal partner in Alexander Raskatov. The composer was born to a Jewish Russian family in Moscow on the day of Stalin’s burial in 1953, not far from Red Square, and has won acclaim with his setting of another literary masterpiece critical of the Soviet Union – A Dog’s Heart, based on Bulgakov’s novella, and also premiered at Dutch National Opera, followed by performances in London, Milan and Lyon.

Director Michielletto set the story in an ab- attoir, rather than a farmyard. »The characters are waiting to be slaughtered here. They’re locked in cages, dreaming of freedom. To be an animal here means being a slave, meat, an object in the hands of humans.« Michieletto’s world premiere production was created as a Co-production of several commissioning houses. It had its premiere in Amsterdam on March 4, 2023; the Viennese premiere follows on February 28, 2024.
 

About the music

Raskatov worked closely with experienced librettist and dramaturge Ian Burton. It was important to him to connect Orwell’s external view of the Soviet empire with internal views, by incorporating original quotes by Stalin, Trotsky and secret service chief Beria, along with Beria’s acts of sexual violence. Raskatov shortened and condensed the text and pushed for the narrative to proceed in graphic situations, as far as possible. For his setting he developed a »scalpel style«, as he calls it, which contures events sharply and in high contrast. Raskatov also uses musical references to the history of his homeland. The score has no fewer than 21 solo roles, covering the full spectrum of human vocal ranges, where each one has a characteristic individual profile.
 

Background

»All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.« The first two translations appeared in Ukrainian and Polish in 1947, the year of the novel’s publication, a parable of the perversion of the Russian Revolution under Stalin’s dictatorship.
Naturally, they had to appear in western Europe. But for some time, it was by no means certain that you would find the English original in western bookshops, which met the manuscript with passive resistance. As Orwell noted in the foreword to the Ukrainian edition, his satire was not primarily aimed at the Soviet Union, which he knew only from periodicals and books, but at western illusions about the socialist wonderland in the east. These illusions implied the need to actively suppress and deny the totalitarian excesses of the regime, from the show trials and deportations through the genocides and the Terror Famine to the gulags.
The fact that a »left« author such as Orwell was writing against this uncritical admiration was met with silence and disinterest by circles regarding themselves as progressive. While at the time it was geopolitical and partypolitical interests (the Soviet Union as an ally in the struggle against Nazi Germany or capitalism) that buttressed the conspiracy of silence in western societies, it has mostrecently be eneconomic interests. The topical nature of Orwell’s dystopia is clear in view of the flagrant re-Stalinization of Russian society since the »oughts«. In the »post-factual« age of populism, the basic question of the book remains pressingly acute in the West. How can popular leaders use the stirring rhetoric of freedom and security while enforcing ruthless power and selfinterest?
 


SYNOPSIS

ACT 1

Reeling drunk, Farmer Jones molests his wife. In the night, the animals assemble to listen to the old boar Old Major. He explains to the animals how they are enslaved by humans and teaches them the revolutionary song “Beasts of Farmland”. The animals have very different reactions to Old Major’s ideas. The raven Blacky presents the prospect of a post-revolutionary life “on Sugarcandy Mountain”. With the courage of despair, the animals rise up against the brutalisation by their master. The rebellion is successful. Taken completely by surprise, Farmer Jones and his wife are driven from the farm. The former Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm by the revolutionaries. The two pigs Snowball and Napoleon proclaim the seven commandments of Animalism which guarantee freedom for all. They are written on the wall of the barn and popularized in the slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad”. When the donkey Benjamin asks who is to get the milk, the pig Squealer explains the pigs must have it to strengthen them in their duty to prevent Jones’s return.

The attempt by the Joneses to recapture the farm with help from Pilkington’s neighbouring farm is defeated, despite losses. The carthorse Boxer, who fought particularly courageously, is declared an “Animal Hero First Class” by Napoleon. Napoleon himself makes the award. The filly Mollie is seduced by Pilk- ington’s gifts and leaves the farm secretly. Snowball and Napo- leon disagree on all questions of leadership. The construction of a windmill proposed by Snowball which could ease the work of the animals and raise their standard of living is frustrated by Napoleon, who argues that the current priority is the need for firearms. Their conflict escalates. Snowball has to flee. Napoleon denounces him as a traitor, declares himself chair- man of the committee of pigs, and as such orders construction of the windmill. He also announces a trading relationship with Pilkington, although this was previously prohibited for the an- imals. There are also rumours that the pigs had moved into the empty farmhouse. The literate goat Muriel is asked to read the commandment against animals sleeping in beds. But the com- mandment now only prohibits sleeping in a bed with sheets. The windmill is destroyed by storm and lightning, Napoleon blames this on Snowball’s sabotage. He sentences him to death.


ACT 2

Napoleon’s henchmen assassinate Snowball as an alleged “se- cret agent”. His alleged accomplices are paraded in show trials and bloodily massacred. The mare Clover sees all her efforts to establish a just community cast in doubt. The animals try to find purpose and comfort in singing “Beasts of Farmland” together, but Napoleon bans the song. The actress Pigetta, who tries to refuse Squealer, is slaughtered. When Muriel tries to read the commandment prohibiting one animal killing another, she makes out the qualification that this only applies “without reason”. The poetic pig Minimus celebrates Napoleon in a hymn of praise.

Napoleon learns that Pilkington is accusing him of fraud and is attacking the windmill with his people. The animals are able to repel the invaders, but the windmill is blown up. Despite severe losses in the ranks of the animals, Napoleon has himself celebrated as the victor. They toast the fallen. Now, alcohol is no longer forbidden to animals, just excessive consumption. Boxer collapses under the strain of reconstruction. The animals are unable to prevent him being dragged off to the knacker’s yard. Squealer, who claims to have gone with Boxer to the vet in the hopes of healing, brings back his alleged last words: “Long live Comrade Napoleon! Napoleon is always right!” Benjamin gets Muriel to read the last commandment left on the barn wall. It reads: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Co-production partner

A Co-production and Co-commission of DUTCH NATIONAL OPERA AMSTERDAM, WIENER STAATSOPER, TEATRO MASSIMO PALERMO and FINNISH NATIONAL OPERA & BALLET HELSINKI.