Classical review: Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, National Concert Hall, Dublin

Opening with the arrival of a flustered White Rabbit and ending with the murder of a Red Queen, Gerald Barry’s pick-and-mix of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books was a hysterical hour of operatic delirium.

Following premieres abroad, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground was given its Irish premiere in a concert performance at the National Concert Hall as part of the New Music Dublin festival. 

Seven singers sang the multiple roles of Carroll’s surreal menagerie. Claudia Boyle in a sweet Alice blue frock made light work of the demanding vocal gymnastics of the title role. 

Mezzo-soprano Clare Presland in scarlet played the Red Queen and Queen of Hearts and contralto Hilary Summers in black gown with jewelled colour detail was in turn a White Queen, a dormouse and a turtle.

Other parts were voiced by tenors, Daniel Norman and Peter Tantsits, baritone Stephen Richardson and bass Joshua Bloom. 

Among the comic highlights was an acapella rendition by Bloom of Humpty Dumpty’s ditty sung to the air of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’.

Under the direction of Thomas Adès, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra played with vigour showing remarkable versatility. They seemed as at ease with the demands of Barry’s frenetic score as with a set of Cole Porter. Tuba and double bass were given a rare opportunity to shine.

Other events throughout the day took place in smaller spaces around the venue. 

Tom Service of the BBC drew amusing anecdotes from Barry and Adès at a chummy chat in the Café. 

I enjoyed the Contempo Quartet’s energetic performance of Adès’ piano quintet with Hugh Tinney in the beautifully revamped Kevin Barry Room, but I felt as though I’d fallen down a rabbit hole on encountering the extreme tedium of the Quiet Music Ensemble’s offering of pieces by a teenage Yoko Ono and Cat Lamb in the Studio Space.

Star Rating: 4/5

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground is available to listen back on RTÉ Lyric FM


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