UNSUK CHIN: Alice in Wonderland (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

UNSUK CHIN: Alice in Wonderland (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

Performers: Sally Matthews (Alice)/Piia Komsi/ Julia Rempe (Cheshire Cat)/ Dietrich Henschel (Duck/ Mad Hatter)/Andrew Watts (White Rabbit)/ Guy de Mey (Mouse)/ Cynthia Jansen (Owl)/ Gwyneth Jones (Queen of Hearts)/ Steven Humes (King of Hearts)/ Christian Rieger (Executioner)/ Rudiger Trebes (Dodo)/ Stefan Schneider (Caterpillar)/ Bavarian State Opera Choir, Children’s Choir/ Orch./ Kent Nagano
Director: Achim Freyer
Studio: EuroArts 2072414 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD 
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.0
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish
No Region Code 
Length: 123 minutes
Rating: **

I find this to be a production more to admire than to like. The stage is very steep, with lots of little cubby holes allowing the characters to emerge at the proper time, and the costumes are stunning, if a little creepy—large masks which look like wicker basket weaving cover many of the singers faces, giving the whole a dreamlike quality that only partially portrays the Wonderland that Alice has stumbled into. In fact, according to the composer, much of what is incorporated into the story is in fact based on her own dreams, so there is a bit of a divergence from the tale proper, making this a fantasy on a fantasy.

The music is nothing to write home about, which is the sine qua non of any opera, so I don’t really regard it as such, more of a theatrical experience with music, though the singing is certainly operatic in nature, some very difficult, but nothing you are going to remotely remember when it is all over. Composer Chin, a Ligeti student, has written an elegantly scene-supportive score that is accessible at the moment it is happening. The opportunities for hidden psychological and intrinsically esoteric meaning are legion, something Nagano—who leads with rapt authority—revels in, and that might appeal more to a German audience. They certainly seem to appreciate the work at the end, the highlight of the Bavarian Opera season, also Nagano’s first at the opera (2007).

Ultimately however, it is the hideous camerawork that sinks this already tenuous adventure. We are not watching what the audience is seeing—the camera dances around, zooms in and out, in-focus and out-of-focus, and generally becomes the most important character in the production for the home audience; the effects are dizzying and completely ridiculous. There might be more to this opera than I realize, but with this video production there is absolutely no way to tell. As is, not recommended.

—Steven Ritter

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