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Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland reviews from Munich

Unsuk Chin's new opera, Alice in Wonderland, has travelled from controversy to acclaim.

The first night of Unsuk Chin’s new opera, Alice in Wonderland, provided the opening of the Munich Opera Festival on 30 June with a fair measure of controversy. Some of the gala audience, stockful of dignitaries and official guests, seemed increasingly perturbed - perhaps objecting to some of the alienation techniques in Achim Freyer’s colourful and characteristic production - and reacted vociferously at the curtain call.

But as the Los Angeles Times noted in a review headed ”Alice in Wonderland triumphs in Munich”, the second night of the run ”proved a hit... When the performance was over, thunderous applause and foot-stomping on the resonant wood floors greeted cast, conductor and composer... ” Recognition also came with Opernwelt selecting Alice in Wonderland as its prestigious 'World Premiere of the Year'.

Kent Nagano, a long-time supporter of Chin’s music, expertly conducted the Bavarian State Opera forces, with a strong cast including Sally Matthews in the title role, Piia Komsii, Dietrich Henschel, Guy de Mey and Andrew Watts. The veteran soprano Gwyneth Jones revelled in the role of Queen of Hearts and, as The New Yorker’s Alex Ross noted, her rendition of “Off with their Heads!” made you “stroke your own neck a bit nervously”.

The opera returns in the main Munich autumn season for further peformances on 15, 17, 20 and 23 November - for full information visit the Bavarian State Opera website.

“Alice has found the way from wonderland to grand opera, with a luxuriant orchestra as welcoming committee: guided and presented by Unsuk Chin... Expectations ran high, the preparations were considerable – and the result is as colourful as a look through a kaleidoscope...”
Hannoversche Allgemeine

“A wondrous new work has, like Alice from her rabbit hole, emerged.”
Los Angeles Times

“Chin’s sound world is seductively cavernous, suggesting not only the magical rabbit hole down which Alice tumbles but also the psychological crevasses beneath the surface of Carroll’s writing... Within a few minutes, the entire orchestra is glittering weirdly: familiar shapes hover at odd angles; age-old harmonies materialize from clouds of timbre and texture; childlike snatches of song appear and disappear, like the body of the Cheshire Cat... The wondrous thing is how effortlessly Chin changes pace, from delicacy to grotesquerie, from cutesiness to dementia. Everything flows organically.”
The New Yorker

”Unsuk Chin has internalised Carroll’s diction completely. She describes Alice’s inhospitable dream world with wonderful humour and cheekiness, but also with tender empathy and generous amounts of mockery… the tea party with Baroque sounds, the sweetly broken lullaby in C-major for the Piglet… The bass clarinet for the Caterpillar, which both cheekily and wistfully paraphrases Gershwin, is as delightful as the mouth organ for the Mock Turtle... First and foremost, the music is fast, rhythmically lively and therefore very close to the text with its rapid emergence and disappearance of situations.”
Tageszeitung (Munich)

“Accompanied by plummeting semiquaver runs of the violins, Alice tumbles into the rabbit hole; later, she dives into the pool of her own tears that shimmers impressionistically like phosphorescent plankton. Bell tones, sound clusters and the thread of the bass tuba provide the background for the lament of the Mad Hatter… And the steaming, flashing orchestral thunder storm during the croquet match is a well-nigh illustrative masterpiece.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“Unsuk Chin’s score, a testimony to commanding musical craft, is sophisticated and has a high entertainment value - equally for those unaccustomed to modern music… Chin’s synaesthetic sense for musical colour and aroma is phenomenal.”

View photos and videoclips of the Munich production.

Chin’s orchestral and ensemble music continues to be much in evidence this autumn, with festival features at Settembre Musica in Milan and Turin, Musica in Strasbourg and the Venice Biennale. Her new work commissioned by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and the Bavarian State Opera receives first performances next spring in Montreal (3-4 March), New York (8 March) and Chicago (24-29 April) conducted by Kent Nagano.

>  Further information on Work: Alice in Wonderland

Photo: Bavarian State Opera/Wilfried Hösl

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