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Alice's Creatives in Wonderland

Ahead of its Royal Opera House opening, the team behind Alice's Adventures in Wonderland reflects on its success

Fflur Wyn as Alice and James Cleverton as the Rabbit in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (OHP)

It must have felt like a Royal Command Performance when Opera Holland Park's breezy summer outing for children received an invitation to play a short season at Covent Garden. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland opens tomorrow and runs until Saturday, not in the main house but in the Linbury Studio, the venue the Royal Opera House keeps hidden away in its bum bag.

Composed by Will Todd to a libretto by Maggie Gottlieb based on Lewis Carroll's eternal novel, Alice is fast becoming a classic children's opera. Critic John Allison described it in The Telegraph as "one of the most charming, least condescending operas for children I have seen... Todd has written a piece that sits naturally somewhere between opera and musical theatre, shifting its styles from contemporary coloratura to the blues as each situation demands".

The composer joins Martin Duncan (director) and Matthew Waldren (conductor) to muse on its success.

Were you worried about the challenge of writing about such a famous character as Alice?

WT: Of course! You feel the weight of the tradition of the Alice story, and there have already been successful adaptations in many different media. In the end you need to find the way of telling the story that works for you as an individual artist.

MD: As soon as I read the libretto, I realised that this was not going to be an exact transcript of the book but it was to be a new 'adventure' for Alice involving some of the well-known characters but in a different situation. I therefore felt it was important to make the characters look like the well-known characters from the book but throw them into a different plot.

WT: When James Clutton (director of opera at OHP) and Sarah Crabtree (then associate producer at OHP; now senior producer at ROH) commissioned Alice were clear from the outset that they wanted a work that could be appreciated on many levels. "Think The Simpsons" was part of the brief.

Speaking to people who have worked on Alice, everyone seems especially fond of it.

MW: There aren't that many new operas being performed, and certainly not many well-written new operas that can really engage both children and adults. Seeing the audience reaction that Alice prompts at every performance, we realise that we're involved with something rare and we all feel a sense of guardianship towards the piece.

MD: To be honest, I've always had a pretty childish sense of humour myself, so that I work on the assumption that if it makes me laugh, young people will like it too. And the libretto is clever enough to work on many levels.

WT: You always hope that your work will be well received but Alice has done particularly well. I'm sure the fantastic collaborative production team has been a big factor in the success.

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party (designed by Leslie Travers) in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (OHP)
© Alex Brenner

From an open-air park setting to the Royal Opera House... how do you approach restaging Alice for different spaces?

MD: Obviously the open-air performances have their own particular magic (and challenges), but we hope that being indoors at the ROH it will weave a different but equally potent spell. Plus we won't be reliant on the British weather!

MW: We won't have gazebos or umbrellas at ROH, and we won't have someone pegging my score for me! Our indoor shows and recording showed us that the orchestrations work well indoors, but inevitably balance will be different with the band in the pit. But, I trust our wonderful 'Alice Band', most of whom have played on the show since 2013. And they'll be happy that they don't have to lug their instruments across a field during the scene changes.

What's next for Alice?

WT: After these performances at the Linbury we'll be back for another season at Opera Holland Park next summer. There is plenty of interest in taking Alice further afield so watch this space...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland runs for four performances at the Royal Opera House from 5-7 November. It returns to Holland Park in 2016.