When Korean composer Unsuk Chin's opera was first performed by the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, it caused a sensation among music critics worldwide. Based on Lewis Carroll's famous and ...
See full summary »
When Korean composer Unsuk Chin's opera was first performed by the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, it caused a sensation among music critics worldwide. Based on Lewis Carroll's famous and fascinatingly enigmatic novel Alice in Wonderland, it is a seductive, enchanting, sensuous opera set to a modern, ear-pleasing score - a triumph of creative fantasy. Unsuk Chin was born in Seoul in 1961, studied with György Ligeti in Hamburg and now lives in Berlin. She has an acute ear for instrumentation, orchestral colours and rhythmic imagery. Her compositions are modern in language but lyrical in their communicative power. Kent Nagano, a long-time supporter of Chin's music, expertly conducted the Bavarian State Opera and a team of wonderful singer-actors including international stars like Dietrich Henschel and Gwyneth Jones. The opera about Alice's search for her identity - "her reality in the appearance of the world" - as director Achim Freyer put it, switches from delicacy to cuteness to ...
Intriguing and incredibly entertaining but also frustrating
Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland joins the long list of new operatic discoveries that also turned out to be pleasant surprises. The music is quite terrific, capturing the darkness and playfulness that's in the original story, and to the extent that it's like an additional character in itself, and the story and wordplay are still fun and recognisable. This production has a lot of great things, it's very interesting and most of it is incredibly well-done and entertaining but there are some frustrating things that bring the production down.
The biggest complaint is the camera work, which to sum it up politely is terribly chaotic. Sometimes with too many close ups and sometimes so blurry that you can't tell who is who(especially when there's more than one person playing one character); there is some camera tilting that makes one sea-sick and disorientates the viewer rather than captivate, and it is never dynamic with the action. In fact it was like the cinematographer/editor was in her own little world and completely detached from what she was meant to do. Some of the sound quality is weak and lacks clarity, making some parts either not as clear as they ought like the bass clarinet for the Caterpillar or inaudible. At other points it's fine, you just have to have it at high volumes. Most of the staging is hugely creative and in a hugely enjoyable way, but because of the Freudian approach it has sometimes the production takes itself too seriously and forgets the playfulness needed for the story, plus some touches verge on bizarre and unnecessary like with the large twin creatures or the Duchess' cook running around with her breasts on full show. And Gwyneth Jones is well past her best vocally here, with her voice screechy and unsteady and in a way where it's not easy to tell what pitch she's on.
Visually, the mix of colourful and bizarre was eye-catching and executed very well. The costumes are unlike any you've seen before for anything Alice in Wonderland, but are brilliantly wacky. The use of puppets is fascinating, strange but the story is as well so it's appropriate. The sets are colourful and magical yet dark and scary, like walking through a dreamy/nightmarish landscape. The staging while not without its faults is creative and entertaining and despite the Freudian approach is true structurally to the story and apart from incorporating a little more playfulness it maintains the spirit as well. The changes in Alice's size is done very cleverly here- especially the elongation-, entrances and exits are remarkably smooth thanks to the moveable stage and the production includes the M episode in the Mad Hatter's tea party scene, something that is not always included in Alice in Wonderland adaptations.
The orchestra are top notch, the chorus also sound great, balance with the orchestra well and seem very involved within the music and with each other and Kent Nagano's conducting shows why he is as well-regarded as he is in 20th century and contemporary music. The performances are terrific(most in multiple roles), especially from Sally Matthews who makes for a winsome Alice, you really feel her confusion and exasperation, and doesn't sound taxed at all by the complex music. It really is the performance of a lifetime. Dietrich Henschel is just great as the Mad Hatter as well. And while Jones disappoints vocally, her acting on the other hand is outstanding, the best acting of the entire cast actually. The Queen of Hearts is an intimidating character but can easily be pantomimic and despite being more associated with the big operatic heroine roles Jones certainly cuts an intimidating presence in the most thrillingly thunderous of ways.
All in all, intriguing, mostly engaging, creative, brilliantly performed and entertaining but has some frustrating things especially the video directing and a few overly-serious, overly-bizarre staging touches. A high 6/10. Bethany Cox
0 of 0 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?