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) SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD420 [68:03]
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.