Chin: Alice in Wonderland
How frustrating! The music for composer Unsuk Chin’s operatic take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is marvellous and these performances are outstanding. Soprano Sally Matthews in the demanding lead role as the innocent, continually bemused, occasionally exasperated Alice draws us into this topsy-turvy world. The other cast members are just as strong, with soprano Gwyneth Jones especially memorable as the Queen of Hearts. Kent Nagano ensures that the every shimmering, swirling detail of this richly imagined score can be heard.
So why the frustration? First of all, in the hands of stage director Achim Freyer, this is a decidedly existential view of wonderland. It is neither a child’s adventure, nor an adult’s fond remembrance of childhood imagination, but an adult nightmare of the helplessness of being a child in a befuddling world. Further productions will clarify whether this is inherent to Chin’s vision of Alice. The sense of unsettling dislocation is increased by the reliance on puppets and costumes where the singer’s face is obscured. An understandable solution for conveying the fantastical, but one that results in making it hard at times to tell who is singing what.
Compounding all this is terrible camera work which constantly flits between random close-ups, twists and supposedly clever tricks, thus continually obscuring a clear sense
of what is actually happening on stage. It becomes tiresome a few minutes into this two-hour work and would ruin even a first-rate production. Oh, and despite being packaged as surround sound, this is only stereo. Chin deserves better.