If I’m honest, while I enjoy Alice in Wonderland, the thought of an opera made for children just sent shivers NOT of anticipation down my spine. How bad was it going to be? What would it take to keep children interested? And how could meeting that criterion possibly results in something that wouldn’t bore me? I’m not really an opera buff at the best of times, and the thought of seeing one of my favorite works of literature reduced to something cutesy and/or banal depressed me beyond words. But, you know, hope springs eternal, and thus I found myself wandering around Holland Park last Saturday, clutching my watch as I dashed down the pathways in the woods going, “I’m late! I’m late” and feeling just too ironic for words.
As it turns out, my fears were entirely unfounded; despite some sound quality issues that any outdoor performance (that moved to about five different areas) would have and a toddler who tried to stage rush the tea party, Will Todd’s Alice in Wonderland combined both excellent, lyrically witty music with some barbed social satire that made sure all members of the audience were entertained and engaged. The music was often of the overly modern sort I find not my style, yet I laughed out loud at the song, “Off With Their Heads,” made extra rich by a panto-dame style Queen of Hearts (Robert Burt). wI was surprised and pleased to see the Cheshire Cat (Magid el Bushra) was cast as a countertenor, meaning I could just sit and enjoy the luscious pleasure of his voice; like all of the side characters, he was richly defined, a trait that extended even to the comic Drink Me bottle (Maud Millar). I found myself caught up in the energy and fun of this show despite my initial misgivings, and I’m glad it was restaged and even more so to hear that it’s transferring to the Linbury in the fall; this is a fun miniature opera full of charm that makes for a perfect hour plus on any sunny summer day you might care to spend at the bottom of a rabbit hole cultivating cabbages and potential young opera fans, who I’m sure will be softened up properly by this show for fuller forays in the future.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, July 18th, 2015. It continues through August 1st.)