Sunday, June 16, 2019

An opera-informative and sharp-looking new work from Victorian Opera with Alice Through the Opera Glass

In my time, I’ve seen a good few kiddie-orientated opera works, although none ever experienced during childhood. Now, one of the most rewarding aspects of seeing them is watching and revelling in the way young folk respond with unfiltered gusto, riveted by the magic of music and theatre.

Timothy Reynolds as White Rabbit and Georgia Wilkinson as Alice
These days Victorian kids have the good fortune of catching the magic with both Opera Australia’s Schools Company and Victorian Opera’s ongoing commitment to educating children in the art of opera and presenting them with increasingly sophisticated results. In recent years, the company’s grand decision to stage Ernst Toch’s The Princess and the Pea, a short work composed in 1927, especially stood out for its creative nouse and vibrant storytelling when it was staged in 2017.

On Saturday, in a three-show day of Alice Through the Opera Glass, the company took another leap forward with a sharp-looking show, touched with an imaginatively written opera-informative one-hour piece, sprinkled with delightful humour and fun adventures. The proof was an audience of kids literally on the edge of their seats drawn to the wonder of some seriously awesome and uncompromising singing.

In Emma Muir-Smith’s appealing and concise libretto, one of literature’s most widely recognised and oft-interpreted characters comes to life in a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets The Magic Flute in a chess game of Operaland where they meet the world of opera through a blend of well-selected works and learn something of its enchantment on the way.

Emily Burke as Elettra and Chorus
(Students from the University of Melbourne)
Alice and White Rabbit stumble on a flute with a note attached saying it belongs to the Queen of the Night. White Rabbit brags about being able to play it but, after he blows a tune, Alice sees a second message written on the back that refers to a curse that, should the flute be played, can only be reversed if it is returned to the queen within the hour. Too late. White Rabbit has been turned into the Mad Hatter. What ensues is a dash to “reverse the curse” and a journey that might very well be the envy of any adventurous young soul.

Struck by a virus (which wasn’t intentionally part of the curse), young soprano Georgia Wilkinson acted and spoke the part as an endearing, genial and intrepid Alice. Wilkinson did a sterling job of taking command and demonstrating unconditionally Alice’s concern for White Rabbit as Kathryn Radcliffe sang the role with lushness and purity from offstage in a “secret” location. My guess is that Radcliffe sang from the pit, her voice sailing high and gloriously from below alongside Shakira Dugan’s divinely sung Mallika - an exotic garden-loving character they meet in Operaland - in the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’ Lakmé.

Timothy Reynolds picked up the chuckles effortlessly with his comic, flappable and nervy portrayal of the long-eared adorable White Rabbit. The adventurers go on to meet the mermaid Elettra, to whom Emily Burke gave hearty good notes and hip-as moves as part of a dreamy chorus rendition of Mozart’s “Voyager’s Chorus” from Idomeneo - students from the University of Melbourne sang with gorgeous undulating harmony as if their grades depended on it. Reynolds’ warm, lyrical tenor brought later cheer with “A Wand’ring Minstrel, I” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and a jaunty “Hm! hm! hm! hm!” quintet from Mozart’s The Magic Flute brought new friends together before dealings were to be had with a stern Esther Counsel as Queen of the Night.

Stephen Marsh and Carlos E. Bárcenas
But the most thrilling singing came from Carlos E. Bárcenas and Stephen Marsh, star turns as Alfredo and Papageno. Bárcenas’ swooning “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” from Verdi’s La traviata carried oodles of sensitivity and radiance, more than enough to dream of singing like that when you grow up. The two friends share a stellar moment in, naturally, “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s The Pearlfishers before Marsh took out the finale with a splendidly exhilarating “Toreador Song” from Bizet’s Carmen as the Queen of the Night bends in a final act of lenience after Alice and White Rabbit arrive 10 minutes late.

It was all tied together entertainingly with Brock Roberts’ lively and pacy direction and a punchy design scheme that made the most of simplicity. Candice MacAllister’s playful set design provided adequate room for movement and a little dance, coming up a treat under Peter Darby’s thoughtful lighting and Isaac Lummis’ inventive costumes which were a particularly striking affair of detail, colour and character.

The pit was a pleasant and abundant source of fine supporting music from the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra under conductor Simon Bruckard’s more lucently decorated than forceful and dramatic interpretation of some of the more familiar opera tunes. In the end, perhaps the only couple of things that felt missing were a duet or two for Alice and White Rabbit and some vocal ferocity from the Queen of the Night. Otherwise, there’s a thoroughly engaging show that some lucky Victorian children will be singing about for a long time.

Alice Through the Opera Glass 
Victorian Opera
Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Saturday 15th June, 2019

Production Photos: Charlie Kinross

1 comment:

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