If Opera 2023 – Will Todd’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Will Todd
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Opera in one Act to a libretto by Maggie Gottlieb after the eponymous book by Lewis Carroll [sung in English]

Alice – Lara Marie Müller
White Rabbit – Dan D’Souza
Dad / Queen of Hearts – Dominick Felix
Mum / Mad Hatter – Rebecca Afonwy-Jones
Cheshire Cat – Katy Thomson
March Hare – Alexey Gusev
White Knight – Emyr Wyn Jones
Humpty Dumpty / Dormouse – Monica McGhee
Brat / Tweedle Dum – Bethany Horak-Hallett
Brat / Tweedle Dee – Joanna Harries
Duchess / Bottle – Lorena Paz Nieto
Caterpillar – Keel Watson
Victorians – Joseph Buckmaster, Annie George, Henry Grant Kerswell & Elizabeth Roberts

The Bristol Ensemble
Mark Austin

Lysanne van Overbeek – Director
Alisa Kalyanova – Designer
Luca Panetta – Lighting designer
Monica Nicolaides – Choreographer


Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 27 August, 2023
Venue: Belcombe Court, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK

Will Todd’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed children’s story, with a libretto by Maggie Gottlieb, frames the story by having its events issue as an apparent dream whilst Alice is taken by her parents to a pet shop during a rainy school summer holiday, and a rabbit starts to talk to her. The well-known characters in essentially correct costume and demeanour (as imagined in John Tenniel’s illustrations and adaptations since) then pass through the ensuing fantasy, before an edifice of a huge fluffy white cloud which was the cause for the whole sequence in the first place, but as a concept presumably also meant to merge with the rabbit’s fur. It is not clear why a couple of the small chorus of ‘Victorians’ wear deerstalkers, as though they are about to go hunting or on safari, unless it is to suggest generally the narrative’s notion of going out on an adventure. But otherwise it is more or less the 19th century of Carroll’s world that is evoked.

Two of the principal characters particularly stand out for the charismatic eccentricity of their depictions here: the Queen of Hearts played with mock menace by Dominick Felix in drag, complete with ginger hair as well as a Tudor-style ruff and so somewhat resembling Elizabeth I; and Keel Watson’s basso profondo Caterpillar, though drily delivered so that a parlando, rather than a singing, effect results. The score itself encompasses an eclectic array of styles such that music theatre is perhaps a better description of the composition than opera, as the continuous and often fast-paced setting draws upon jazz and operatic coloratura elements against the prevailing backdrop of a Stephen Sondheim-like musical. The lack of surtitles is a pity as the often speedy dialogue behind quite a percussive, frenetic score is frequently obscured and so some of the text’s detail is lost (and clearly there are jokes and witticisms added to the general scenario in this libretto, rather than simply adapting Carroll’s outline). 

Fortunately Lara Marie Müller sustains a generally robust, mature musical line as Alice, whereas Dan D’Souza presents a softly spoken, droll White Rabbit. Monica McGhee and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones are likably mischievous as the Dormouse and the Mad Hatter respectively, while Emyr Wyn Jones is a more bouncy White Knight.

The one-to-a-part Bristol Ensemble keep the show going with no less energy and sparkle, despite comprising only eleven performers – often they sound like more than that, such is the boisterous performance under Mark Austin’s unflustered, well co-ordinated direction. 

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