Alice’s Adventures Under Ground at the Royal Opera House
At just under an hour’s worth of unrelenting, unbridled madness, Gerald Barry’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is a tough-going, dizzying, and simply wonderful little opera which never lets the audience come to a moment’s rest. From start to finish, the music is as wild and engaging as it is disjointed and maddening. Stuffing both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass into such a short runtime is no mean feat and often feels overwhelming – but for the most part it works well, turning the show into a crazy collage of hilarious nonsense.
But the challenge to the audience to keep up is nothing in comparison with the difficulties the singers need to brave. Aside from Alice – sung by a very competent Claudia Boyle – all cast members portray multiple roles. Clare Presland is – among others – the Red Queen, the Duchess and one of the Mock Turtles, Hilary Summers the White Queen and Tiger Lily, Sam Furness the White King and the Mad Hatter, and so on. What results is an exercise in virtuosity to blow the mind – and it’s incredible how well they succeed, guided brilliantly no doubt by the musical directing of Thomas Adès, who also conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House with minute precision.
Director Antony McDonald, tasked with the undoubtedly infuriating monstrosity of a job portraying this madness on the stage, orchestrates the whole phenomenally well with an old-fashioned Victorian stage-within-the-stage containing the majority of the action. He is well supported by Lucy Burge’s apt movement directing; she never lets the singers rest, always making the opera feel alive. Rounded out by Fabiana Piccioli’s atmospheric lighting design, the production is extremely powerful and creative, always maintaining a beautiful air of nonsense and good humour.
There are a few weaknesses in the overall presentation. At times the staging seems slightly too tame for the unbridled madness of the music, even if it is successful for the most part. At others the action and the singing happen at such a quick pace that it becomes overwhelming. But such trifles do very little indeed to mar such a fantastic piece, which dazzles with its energy and passion, and was obviously made with such love for the source material that one can hardly help but be swept away by the insanity.
Photos: Clive Barda, © ROH 2020
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is at the Royal Opera House from 3rd February until 9th February 2020. For further information or to book visit the ROH’s website here.