May 13th, 2013

Royal Ballet: "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland"

On Saturday, May5th, we went out to see the digital showing of the Royal Ballet’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” We were intrigued to find that this was a totally new ballet, with choreography by Christopher Weeldon, score by Joby Talbot, and scenario by Nicholas Wright, with an intriguing design by Bob Crowley, most of whom were interviewed in the course of the program.

This was a fascinating piece with a lot of excellent stuff in it—perhaps a bit too much. You could tell that the creators got to throw in every thing they thought of and thought good, when it could have benefitted from some editing. A case in point would be the scenes involving the Duchess ( a classical Royal Ballet “dame” role--). Who would have thought that the Frog Footman and the Fish Footman, two very minor characters in Carroll, needed their own dance?

The sequence in the Duchess’ kitchen is a detour from the plot and adds some disturbing elements: the Cook is a cleaver-wielding take-off of “Mrs. Lovatt” from “Sweeney Todd,” who exhibits an ongoing infatuation with the Queen of Heart’s headsman (or at least his axe--). The hellish kitchen is festooned with whole or partial carcasses of gigantic pigs, one of which is being fed into a sausage grinder. When the puppet “Baby” transforms into a pig, it seems to imply the Duchess is a combination of Circe and the Gingerbread Witch.

That said, there is a great deal that is very well done. The ballet opens with a framing sequence of a garden tea party at the home of Alice Lidell (danced by Sarah Lamb). Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll (Edward Watson), is there early, and uses the time to take photographs of Alice and her sisters. (Georgie recognized the costumes the girls were wearing, such as a Chinese outfit, as being historically accurate to Dodgson’s photos.) Alice’s mother (Zenaida Yanowsky) takes imperious control and directs the girls to change as the other guests begin to arrive. Alice steals a tart from the table and gives it to the handsome gardener’s boy, Jack (Frederico Bonelli), but when he is found with it, he is sacked over Alice’s protests. As the dull party drags on, Carroll begins to transform into the White Rabbit, and leads Alice “down the rabbit hole,” the opening of which is through his capacious camera bag.

The production uses a lot of digital projections, both front and back, for scene change effects and backgrounds, which are well integrated with physical set pieces, and they come into play for falling down the rabbit hole and the room of doors sequence, which also featured some delightful clowning on the part of Ms. Lamb trying to get through the tiny door into the garden. The Mad Tea Party was one of the most delightful sequences, featuring Steven McRae as The Mad Hatter. McRae is also an accomplished tap dancer, and his tapping provided a percussive beat for the dancing of Alice, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. This scene among others included some mischevious “quotes” from famous ballets, such as Balanchine’s “Apollo.”

Another elaborate and enjoyable dance was the Queen of Heart’s devastating parody of the “Dance of the Four Gentlemen/Rose Adagio” from “Sleeping Beauty.” In the “Tart Adagio,” Ms. Yanowsky, in Wonderland Persona as the Queen, gives a daring presentation of a bad dancer trying to overreach her skills while accompanied by timorous and reluctant partners.

The choreography by Mr. Weelson was exciting and interesting, although, at 150 mInutes plus intermission, there was rather a lot of it. Ms. Lamb danced her lengthy role (she is in every scene) with great flair. Her smiling face gave us the impression that her “Alice” was finding the whole thing a great thrill, a refreshing change from the typically dully puzzled Alice in most adaptations of Carroll. She was well supported by Mr. Watson as Carroll/White Rabbit, and Mr. Bonelli as Jack/Knave of Hearts.
The score by Mr. Talbot was pleasant and melodious, and ably played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, under the direction of David Briskin.

All in all, a very enjoyable and innovative new ballet. We would be interested to see what will be done with it in future productions after it has shaken down a bit.

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Florentine Opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.”

On Sunday, May 12th, we saw and heard a very fine production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” (“Le Nozze di Figaro”. Of course, we’ve seen numerous “Figaro’s,” but this was one of the best. The acting was excellent, the singing overall excellent, costumes attractive, and there was an interesting and beautiful set. The period-sized orchestra, directed by Maestro Joseph Rescigno, delivered Mozart’s music flawlessly, at least to my ear.

The one thing that was less than excellent was the singing of Daniel Belcher, in the role of Figaro. His voice seemed harsh and lacking both flexibility and luster in his upper registers. Mr. Belcher has performed at the Florentine before, as Figaro in “The Barber of Seville” in 2007, and Taddeo in “L’italiana in Algeri” in 2011, and we didn’t notice this, so perhaps he was just not in good voice on Sunday.

Perhaps this was a factor, and perhaps also the clever and busy stage direction by Candace Evans was a factor, but we found many new things in this “Marriage,” among them the extent to which Suzanna (Jamie-Rose Guarrine) and Count Amalvia (Craig Verm) are the real protagonist and antagonist in this show. Both of them have a lot more music, action and stage time than Figaro does, and it is ultimately Suzanna, with the help of the Countess (Diana Mc Vey), who engineers Amalvia’s comeuppance while Figaro misunderstands what’s going on.

All the other actors sang well, and there was excellent comic acting by all, including Adriana Zabala as an appropriately boyish Cherubino, Matthew Lau as Dr. Bartolo, Jenni Bank as Marcellina, and Frank Kelley, who, as the supposed music master Don Basilo, accomplished the difficult feat of “conducting” in four beats while the orchestra and on-stage chorus were performing in three.

The supertitles, while generally spare, did an adequate job of getting across the gist of the libretto, while adding some clever bits during the scene changes, such as “Now we go to the chamber of Rosina, Countess Amalvia . . .remember her from ‘Barber of Seville’?”

We enjoyed this production very much, and it currently holds the top place in memory of “Marriages” we have seen.

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