Alice in process…

Instead of the question “Who is Alice?” there are now paths leading to what Alice might come to be…

24 Jun 2010

Alice in Opera

Composer Unsuk Chin

"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 grotesquery and back again. The rather conventional Alice starts following her dreams, meeting a white rabbit that guides her through a wonderland. Alice views it all with amazement and learns - finally returning to the real world, richer for the experience. The phenomenal fairy-tale settings and production were in the hands of Achim Freyer, who created a firework of colour and form. The marvellous costumes and puppets were created by Nina Weitzner, who was named "Costume Designer of the Year" by the German music magazine Opernwelt for her imaginative designs. And in a survey of the magazine's opera critics, Unsuk Chin's opera, which closed Kent Nagano's first season at the Bavarian State Opera, was hailed as the "World Première of the Year". This live recording of the premiere in the Nationaltheater in Munich in June 2007 provides a feast of audiovisual entertainment."

"Alice is dreaming. Consumed by curiosity and full of joie de vivre she sets off for a world which it is only possible to enter if one has the right key: imagination. On her way through this dream world she arrives at the house of the White Rabbit, with his waistcoat and his pocket watch, she comes across the hatter, the March hare and the dormouse at the mad tea party and plays croquet with the courtiers of the Queen of Hearts. In the light-hearted tales of the British mathematician and writer Charles L. Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the philosophical and the nonsensical are closely linked. Generations of young children and people who have remained young at heart have proved his “Alice in Wonderland” (1865) to be a cult book which appeals to all generations worldwide. The Korean composer Unsuk Chin and her North American librettist David Henry Whang (the author of the successful piece “M Butterfly”) also succumbed to the charm and magic of this book. Unsuk Chin has caused quite a sensation in the last few years on an international level with her concert pieces and orchestral works. Her particularly colourful tonal language unites clear structures and expressiveness without detracting from the value of catchy melodies and instrumental virtuosity as means of expression. Light and colour are caught in the music of her compositions and developed into theatrical tonal gestures with a wonderful sense of the humourous. In this production by Achim Freyer, an artist among directors, the multi-layered story „Alice in Wonderland“ has its world premiere as an opera for all generations."

Found HERE

"The music is a mélange of atonal sounds (often recalling Chin's teacher Ligeti) and more traditional harmonic passages. A vast orchestra, spilling out from the pit to surrounding boxes in the theater according to Jens, interweaves myriad colored threads in often unexpected ways.

The sonic allusions include, among other things, spectralism, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and swing. The caterpillar, who speaks his lines through words that flash around him in a circle, plays an extended, bluesy solo on the bass clarinet. It is every bit as surreal and hallucinatory as Lewis Carroll's stories -- written, let us not forget, as an expression of an older minister's odd attraction to and obsession with an 11-year-old girl.

Even more striking, if possible, is the stylish, outlandish staging directed and designed by Achim Freyer. It is abstract, with characters relating to one another indirectly, from separate parts of the geometrically divided set. The stage is mostly a dark background for the colorful masks worn by some characters and the otherworldly puppets, all created by Nina Weitzner, with influences from schizophrenic artists and other Art Brut styles. Some of the strangest images are seen at the open and close of the opera, where Chin and her librettist, David Henry Hwang, altered Carroll's story.

Alice does not come from and exit to 19th-century England: she visits Wonderland by way of the composer's own dreams. Before Alice falls through a hole to get to Wonderland, she is menaced by two men, portrayed by large-headed puppets with phallic noses. At the end of the opera, an invisible man tells Alice to plant seeds in the dead, hard ground. When she does so, flowers sprout up and a bright light fills the stage. Sally Matthews is a piercing, girlish Alice, remarkably singing through the oversized mask for most of the opera. Other fine singing comes from countertenor Andrew Watts (White Rabbit), Piia Komsi (Cheshire Cat), and the redoubtable Gwyneth Jones (Queen of Hearts)."

Found HERE

Buy the DVD HERE

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