Having premiered Gerald Barry’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground at the Royal Opera House, London, in 2020, Irish National Opera (INO) were unable to bring the production to Ireland due to Covid-19 health restrictions. As a result, the company decided to release the world premiere recording through Signum Records.
As well as composing the music, Barry wrote the libretto. It is based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This single-act opera lasts for just under an hour and comprises a series of episodes which begin with Alice falling through the rabbit hole and then meeting various characters from the novels as she moves across a chess board.
The lyrics comprise a mix of singing, a capella and spoken word. The music fully captures the surreal nature of the books; it is inventive, exuberant, gleeful and genuinely good fun.
The ensemble cast is outstanding and it seems unfair to highlight individual singers. However, special mention must go to Claudia Boyle, who handles Barry’s demandingly high soprano with great vocal agility, while mezzo-soprano Clare Presland displays wonderful clarity of tone as the Queen of Hearts/Red Queen. Bass Alan Ewing’s Humpty-Dumpty is both self-assured and funny. His rhyme in track 16 is sung to the tune of Beethoven’s choral symphony Ode to Joy.
Music is provided by the Irish Chamber Orchestra, conducted with aplomb by André de Ridder. It is by turns bombastic, light, sprightly and rousing.
The recording is excellent: crisp and clear. Layers of music and song create cascades of sound that are delightful to listen to. However, at times the abrupt ending to a track is jarring, detracting from the overall experience and making it feel disjointed.
The comprehensive booklet – supplied with the CD or as a digital download – has essays on the character of Alice in the books by Lewis Carroll scholar Jenny Woolf and on Barry’s opera by composer and producer Toby Young. It also includes cast bios, a full cast list and the English libretto.
The recording is available to stream, download and as a physical CD. It is released on 5 November and can be pre-ordered now.
This is INO’s first release on the Signum label and it marks a new partnership between the two organisations. A recording can’t replace the experience of seeing an opera live, and I’m looking forward to this inventive and spectacular production being staged again, but this is a very listenable and engaging performance.
• Price: from £12
• Format: CD, digital stream, download
• Run time: 53 minutes, 24 seconds
• Tracks: 20
• Pre-order and stream: available here
• Release date: 5 November 2021
• More information: from Signum Records
Bizarre, beautiful and boisterous – this recording is entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.