Opera Holland Park
The first children's work commissioned by Opera Holland Park is by Will Todd and Maggie Gottlieb. Aimed at over 4s, it certainly kept dozens of very small children fully engaged at the performance I saw.
And it is fun to move with cast and 11 piece orchestra ("The Alice Band") to four different areas of the rather romantic tree-girt Yucca Lawn as the scene shifts. During these relocations the atmosphere is sustained by folksy music from saxophone and accordion.
Gottlieb's libretto wisely takes a handful of the most familiar characters from Lewis Carroll and weaves an episodic plot inspired by the two Alice books rather than following them slavishly. And Todd's music, which includes lyrical moments, jazzy numbers, reference to spirituals and nursery rhymes and much more, supports the words appropriately.
Thus we get Keel Watson as a sumptuously languid caterpillar leading "The Wonderland Blues" in Louis Armstrong mode and Robert Burt as a delicious Miss Trunchbull of a Red Queen singing a song about decapitation, very reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado on the same subject. And the words are witty. Gottlieb rhymes "nuisance" with "mutants" and writes lines such as "Boxin' and stackin' I've gone and done my back in."
Fflur Wyn is outstanding as Alice – at first in a trenchcoat at a pet shop with her parents and two tiresome urchins (Clara Hendrick and Elaine Tate) who later morph into Tweedledum and Tweedledee – and then, once she has made friends with the Rabbit (James Cleverton) in the usual blue dress and white pinny. She has excellent control over her fine soprano voice, although the number she is given to sing after the tea party is too long. Wyn acts with admirable conviction too.
In a cast which is generally strong, Stephanie Bodsworth is good value as the diminutive, sleepy dormouse. Maud Millar gives us an entertaining living bottle for Alice to drink from and James Laing's counter tenor Cheshire Cat has alarming, devilish blue hair and a nice slinky manner.
It is unusual at any show to be quite as close to the musicians as the audience is for this one and it's a real pleasure to see the musical director, Stuart Stratford, who manages to keep music and singers together most of the time, apparently genuinely enjoying the work. I saw several instrumentalists smile with pleasure between entries too. And it's infectious.
- Susan Elkin