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Will TODD (b. 1970)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2013)
Alice – Fflur Wyn (soprano)
Rabbit – James Cleverton (baritone)
Dad / Queen of Hearts – Robert Burt (tenor)
Mum / Mad Hatter – Victoria Simmonds (mezzo)
Cheshire Cat – Magid El-Bushra (counter-tenor)
Caterpillar – Keel Watson (baritone)
March Hare / White Knight - John Lofthouse (baritone)
Humpty Dumpty / Duchess / Bottle / Victorian - Maud Millar (soprano)
Brat / Tweedle Dum – Rosie Middleton (mezzo)
Brat / Tweedle Dee – Rosanne Havel (soprano)
Dormouse – Stephanie Bodsworth (soprano)
Victorians – Edward Hughes (tenor), Henry Grant Kerswell (bass)
Opera Holland Park/Matthew Waldren
rec. 2014, Angel Studios, Islington, London, UK
Reviewed as a 24/48 download [Hyperion]
Pdf booklet enclosed (no libretto)

The Alice phenomenon is an endless source of musical and filmic interest; I much admired the American composer David del Tredici’s Final Alice, not least for the stratospherically strange performance by Barbara Hendricks (review). I also have very powerful memories of Ian Holm as the troubled Rev. Dodgson in Gavin Millar and Dennis Potter’s film Dreamchild; do watch it if you can. Now we have composer Will Todd’s take on Wonderland; billed as ‘a family opera’, and with a lively libretto by Maggie Gottlieb, the work was premiered by London’s Opera Holland Park in 2013. It’s been in the group’s repertoire ever since, with performances scheduled for Covent Garden’s Linbury Theatre later this year (2015).

For those who haven’t been there Holland Park is one of the capital’s finest and most peaceful public parks. A mix of woodland and more formal areas it has at its centre the ruins of Holland Park House, flattened by the Luftwaffe in 1940. Indeed, it’s something of a wonderland itself, so it’s the perfect setting for Todd’s lightly fantastical piece. I say lightly as it avoids the darker aspects of Carroll’s tale, concentrating instead on a toe-tapping and very approachable narrative that lasts for just over an hour. That’s the perfect length for a young audience; moreover, Gottlieb’s libretto is literate, funny and not at all condescending.

Musically Todd opts for a mix of jazz, blues and swing, with more than a dash of good old-fashioned musical theatre. The catchy overture seems to encompass all that and more, and it soon becomes clear that the cast – many of whom play multiple parts – are having a jolly good time. Fflur Wyn is a delightful and articulate Alice and all the other roles are well taken. There are some unusual choices – the Queen of Hearts is played by a tenor, the Cheshire Cat by a counter-tenor – but in the context of Todd’s carefully populated nether world that seems to work perfectly well. Conductor Matthew Waldren draws bright, breezy playing from his orchestra.

Indeed, if I have one criticism of this recording it’s that the sound is a little too upfront, and it all gets a bit strident in the ensemble pieces. Any other caveats? A few; some characters could be more vividly drawn and the numbers could be more sharply differentiated. Also, Todd’s otherwise imaginative accompaniment becomes little more than a discreet reinforcement of the sung narrative. Some of the voices are less appealing than others – especially under pressure – but there’s no denying this is an affectionate and accomplished enterprise that can’t fail to entertain. There’s no libretto, but that’s not a problem when the diction is this clear.

Great fun for young and old; catch it live if you can.

Dan Morgan



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