Posted in #City Lyric Opera

Down the Rabbit Hole

Review by Mari S. Gold

Alice portrayed by Laura Soto-Bayomi, Photo credits: City Lyric Opera.

For a new take on going down the rabbit hole look no further than The Garden of Alice, an opera adaptation by Elizabeth Raum presented by City Lyric Opera. With so much conversation about what is real and what is not this inventive production fits this arena in a timely, innovative manner.

Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865; it has never been out of print and has subsequently been adapted for film, ballet, opera, art, board and video games, and theme parks. Here it is reimagined as part of the digital age with screens featuring designs that engage the audience with scenes and characters—some more successful than others as in the Cheshire Cat that didn’t quite hit its marks.
Alice, played by Laura Soto-Bayomi, has a lovely soprano voice and makes a convincing young woman with an effective note of humor. When she asks the White Rabbit “Doesn’t the truth count?” it’s moving and we are dashed—but not entirely surprised when the Rabbit replies, “It isn’t the truth that matters but the words that are being said.”

Nate Mattingly as the White Rabbit. Photo credits: City Lyric Opera

The entire cast sings well especially Nate Mattingly as the White Rabbit; Ryan Lustgarden in many parts including the Knave of Hearts and bass Robert Feng who performs the Mad Hatter and other roles. Gileann Tan’s Dormouse is excellent from her clear, lyric soprano to her Dormouse ears rendered in knotted curls.

The music blends contemporary sound with a scattering of more conventional melodies like “You Are Old Father William” and Beautiful Soup. Danielle Jageleski, music director, has the small, powerful orchestra in hand and follows the players as they move from room to room of the Blue Gallery, an eccentric collection of spaces. Moving around is part of the producers’ intent but I’m not sure it’s necessary as it wastes time and makes it difficult for anyone with physical limitations. My other objection was the fog which helps sustain the illusion of an unreal world but arrived in a cloud of noxious scent.

The production is nimbly staged by Attilio Rigotti who keeps the action moving which must be particularly challenging when both players and audience are mobile. He and Orsolya Szantho, Video Designer, founded GLITCH, a company that combines digital, interactive and live performance with these skills informing Alice in the Garden.

Mary Rice is the Duchess Queen. Photo credits:City Lyric Opera

Social media is here to stay and this Alice makes great use of it. The entire digital experience—in life as well as art—is fascinating while it is entirely artificial. Whether or not you engage with – or like — the digital world it’s here.

Costumes by Gaya Chatterjee are a great example of making an impressive statement simply. The White Rabbit’s sparkly shoes, Red Queen’s scepter, tulle overlay of Alice’s second outfit and Dormouse’s shoes and dresses in mouse-like tones of brown are clever touches that continually give the audience something fresh to see.

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