Imagination Fuels Opera Theatres’ Alice In Wonderland

Although Alice In Wonderland is not as old as more traditional operas (it premiered in 2007), staging it is nonetheless a challenging endeavor. For starters it is never easy to tinker with a classic, in this case the novels of Lewis Carroll which have entetainened children and adults for generations. Creating the imaginary worlds created by Carroll into a visual staged medium is simply daunting.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis took all of this into consideration when they decided to stage Alice In Wonderland as the finale for their current season, Luckily Stage Director James  Robinson has left no stone unturned in making a libretto by David Henry Hwang and Unsik Chin sizzle and pop.

To make this happen a few key ingredients were added for seasoning. First, the company commissioned a new orchestration for the opera. Second they held nothing back in designing cosutmes for the production, allowing James Schuette to cloak the characters in bold styles. Finally Robinson assembled an amazing cast led by Ashley Emerson (who was dazzling in last season’s Daughter of The Regiment) as Alice.

Despite her demure stature Emerson is a powerhouse. Simply put, the production is built around her. Her Aice is inquisitive, rational and not afraid to speak up. By giving Alice some gumption Emerson has made this familiar character fresh. Her solos are amongst this opera season’s best moments.

Interestingly, despite Emerson’s epic presence, the success of Alice In Wondeland is its ensemble. There definitely is safety in numbers as the troop pulls all of the stops for a magical production. Joining Emerson is  Aubrey Allicock who shines as the Mad Hatter. Soprano Julie Makerov, making her OTSL debut, is a delightfully ruthless Queen of Hearts. Tracy Dahl’s performance as The Cheshire Cat is also first rate.  David Trudgen successfully pulls double duty as the White Rabbit and the March Hare with great panache.

Nothing is left to chance as the lines between set piece and stage presentation are blurred thanks to some imaginative stage design work from Allen Moyer. Almost everything featured on stage has multiple uses, further adding to the suspension of reality prevelent in the opera.

Underscoring the great sets and lavish costumes is the use of film as a medium for passing time, depicting motion emphasizing the utter strangeness of Wonderland. Film is projected as a backdrop throughout most of the performance, lending both a luminosity and density to the visual presentation.

In fact the imaginative nature of Alice In Wonderland itself allows the production team and ensemble to get carried away and take things to a bolder and brighter place not offored in more traditional operas. They are obviously relishing the opportunity.

There is no mistake about it, this is an opera of experimentation served up with lots of surreal frosting. Mounting a contemporary opera of this nature was a bit of a gamble for OTSL. Despite the stunning visuals, gorgeous songs and innovative staging it is obvious that the company did not have much wiggle room for error. The fact that everything goes in perfect syncopation without a hitch is really something special. Everything in this very technical show is perfectly timed and executed.

There couldn’t be a better closing opera for Opera Theatre of St. Louis to showcase its wares, Alice is Wonderland is a fun romp from some fine young talent while taking the craft of set design to a whole new level. The opera is fueled by a rising starlet surround by a cast of virtuosos that push the envelope every night in an effort to maintain OTSL’s reputation for innovation.

Everyone likes to feel like a kid again and explore the unlimited realms of the imagination.  Alice In Wonderland affords audiences that treat while maintaining the childlike inquisitiveness of Carroll’s original work.  Thanks to Opera Theatre Of St. Louis, the onstage world of Alice In Wonderland is a showstopper in every sense of the word, It  never relents in delivering two hours of nonstop frolic, fear and fun for the child in all of us.

Here are the performance dates and times for Alice In Wonderland.

Wednesday, June 13 , 8:00 pm

Friday, June 15,  8:00 pm

Sunday, June 17,  7:00 pm

Tuesday, June 19,  1:00 pm

Thursday, June 21 , 8:00 pm

All performance s are held at the Browning Mainstage at the  Loretto-Hilton Center.

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