His most recent operatic outing had been The Importance of Being Earnest when he showed great musical inventiveness and humour to make a thoroughly enjoyable opera out of Oscar Wilde’s play. Lewis Carroll’s surreal, dreamy fantasy, however, poses a greater challenge and offers more opportunities to create some delicious craziness with the addition of energetic music.
Barry himself wrote the libretto, basing it closely on Lewis Carroll’s words, though not necessarily in the order he wrote them and not always in the language he used.
Indeed, at various moments in the production, we hear the words of Jabberwocky sung in English, French, German and Russian.
With very striking costumes (especially the horse suits for the Red and White Knight) and inspired direction by Antony McDonald, the production perfectly captures the zaniness of Carroll’s creation, even modernising and lifting it at times to Pythonic levels.
With almost all the cast playing several parts with some fast and numerous costume changes, it is difficult to single out any individual performances, though they all entered into the spirit of the production with great vigour and commitment.
The Dublin-born soprano Claudia Boyle played the title role of Alice impressively, coping very well with the rather shrieky music given to her by Barry.
The opera is played without an interval and only lasts an hour, which gives time for two performances with different casts on the evenings when it is performed.
Its pace and length fit the bill for the Royal Opera’s description of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground as fun furious and frantic and a great romp for the whole family.
Unusually for Covent Garden, there were many children at the opening night, though I did notice some families leaving before the end.
The entire production is a great tribute to the creativity and humour of Lewis Carroll and for sophisticated, Alice-loving children of all ages there is only word for it: brillig (and not at all slithy)!
Box Office: 020 7304 4000 or www.roh.org.uk (final performances February 8 and 9, morning and early afternoon).