Sunday, 4 December 2016

Fifty mad minutes: Gerald Barry's Alice's Adventures Under Ground

Hilary Summers, Allison Cook, Barbara Hannigan, Britten Sinfonia - Gerald Barry: Alice's Adventures Under Ground - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Hilary Summers, Allison Cook, Barbara Hannigan, Britten Sinfonia
Gerald Barry: Alice's Adventures Under Ground - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Gerald Barry Alice's Adventures Under Ground; Barbara Hannigan, Allison Cook, Hilary Summers, Allan Clayton, Peter Tantsits, Mark Stone, Joshua Bloom, Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Adès; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Nov 28 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Cycling downhill with faulty brakes: Barry's hyperactive new opera in concert performance

Gerald Barry’s crazy opera the Importance of Being Earnest was revived in the Barbican Theatre earlier this year. I was there and described it as “breathless” [see Ruth's review on this blog]. His latest offering was a whistle-stop tour of Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books. Alice’s Adventures Under Ground received its European premiere in a concert performance in the Barbican Hall on 28 November 2016, with Thomas Adès conducting the Britten Sinfonia and Barbara Hannigan in the title role, plus Allison Cook, Hilary Summers, Allan Clayton, Peter Tantsits, Mark Stone and Joshua Bloom.

Barry and Lewis Carroll seem natural allies in the absurd, but any revisionist view of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and his rather creepy current reputation didn’t get a look-in in this show.
Allan Clayton, Peter Tantsits, Mark Stone, Joshua Bloom, Britten Sinfonia - Gerald Barry: Alice's Adventures Under Ground - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Allan Clayton, Peter Tantsits, Mark Stone, Joshua Bloom, Britten Sinfonia
Gerald Barry: Alice's Adventures Under Ground - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Even though the whole thing lasted 50 minutes and most of it gave a feeling of cycling downhill with faulty brakes, there were some moments where the whole thing went slo-mo. All we did was catch our breath, rather than wondering about the many facets of Lewis Carroll that have kept English Lit lecturers busy for over a century.

We started with a vocal warm-up – frenzied arpeggios to the word “DOWN” (shouted out by the surtitles, without which we would have been pretty lost). We had “Jabberwocky” in Russian, French and German. We had perilously high lines for Hannigan and Allan Clayton and subterranean rumbles for contralto Hilary Summers. We had the “Ode to Joy” with Hannigan conducting the singers while Adès conducted something completely different for the orchestra. We had filthy trills from the brass and wind machines in stereo. And in the final few pages we heard “I’ve done all the screaming already” and went back to the arpeggios of the beginning.

I did enjoy the inventiveness of the music but did worry about the toll it was taking on the voices who were swigging water at intervals, more frequently as the show went on, and was terribly impressed that Clayton managed to sing a lovely legato phrase at the end. It was billed as a concert performance but there was plenty to watch here: the characterful page turning from the singers; the gags with upside-down surtitles, Alice throttling the Red Queen. Its world première in LA had been fully staged with, by all accounts, much rushing around the stage. I was glad to have this (relatively) less hyperactive version. The Barbican audience loved it.

Gerald Barry: Alice's Adventures Under Ground
Concert performance, , Barbican Hall, 28th November 2016
Britten Sinfonia
Thomas Adès – conductor

Barbara Hannigan – Alice
Allison Cook – Red Queen, Queen of Hearts, Duchess, Mock Turtle
Hilary Summers – White Queen, Dormouse, Tiger Lily, Mock Turtle, Cook
Allan Clayton – White King, White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Tweedledum, Frog Footman, Fawn
Peter Tantsits – March Hare, Tweedledee, Mock Turtle, Fish Footman
Mark Stone – White Knight, Cheshire Cat, Mock Turtle, Soldier
Joshua Bloom – Humpty Dumpty, King of Hearts, Red Knight, Mock Turtle

Gerald Barry on Planet Hugill blog:

  • The Importance of Being Earnest - Britten Sinfonia, Tim Murray, Ramin Gray, Barbican Hall, 13 March 2016 - Opera review
  • Barry Meets Beethoven - Stephen Richardson, Chamber Choir Ireland, Crash Ensemble, Paul Hillier on Orchid Classics - CD review


Elsewhere on this blog:
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