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Gerald Barry: Alice’s Adventures Underground

Claudia Boyle, Clare Presland, Hilary Summers, Gavan Ring, Peter Tantsits, Stephen Richardson, Alan Ewing; Irish Chamber Orchestra/André de Ridder (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0
Signum Alice

Gerald Barry
Alice’s Adventures Underground
Claudia Boyle, Clare Presland, Hilary Summers, Gavan Ring, Peter Tantsits, Stephen Richardson, Alan Ewing; Irish Chamber Orchestra/André de Ridder
Signum Classics SIGCD 695   53:25 mins

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Few novels have had the impact of Lewis Carroll’s two books devoted to his young heroine Alice, which have inspired works by Salvador Dali, the 1951 Disney animation and a fancy-dress theme that shows no signs of slowing. (The V&A’s ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ – which runs until 21 December – brings together some of these cultural artefacts.) Musically, Alice has recently been represented in ballet (Joby Talbot, 2013) and a 2007 opera by Unsuk Chin, both of which follow the plot of Carroll’s first book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, Gerald Barry combines the best of both of Carroll’s texts to form his own multi-lingual libretto. It’s a perfectly absurd basis for Barry’s perfectly absurd score – recorded for the first time by the Irish National Opera.

Claudia Boyle reprises the title role, having given the stage premiere at Covent Garden in 2020, dispatching dozens of top Cs (many in the first piece) with assurance. Barry’s bouncing, ascending phrases allude to the energy and curiosity of a seven-year-old – heard clearly in Boyle’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty.

The variety of styles presented in this short, single-act opera is mind-boggling – croquet rules are explained through Czerny’s technical piano studies, the Jabberwocky poem appears as Russian hymn, a French cabaret act and German marching song, and a pompous Humpty Dumpty samples to the tune from Ode to Joy. In another setting, under another composer, all this might seem bizarre, but such musical references are so beautifully integrated they enhance the referential nature of Carroll’s original narrative arc.

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Claire Jackson