When Korean composer Unsuk Chin's opera was first performed by the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, it caused a sensation among music critics worldwide. Based on Lewis Carroll's famous and fascinatingly enigmatic novel Alic... more »e in Wonderland, it is a seductive, enchanting, sensuous opera set to a modern, ear-pleasing score - a triumph of creative fantasy. Unsuk Chin was born in Seoul in 1961, studied with György Ligeti in Hamburg and now lives in Berlin. She has an acute ear for instrumentation, orchestral colours and rhythmic imagery. Her compositions are modern in language but lyrical in their communicative power. Kent Nagano, a long-time supporter of Chin's music, expertly conducted the Bavarian State Opera and a team of wonderful singer-actors including international stars like Dietrich Henschel and Gwyneth Jones. The opera about Alice's search for her identity - "her reality in the appearance of the world" - as director Achim Freyer put it, switches from delicacy to cuteness to grotesquery and back again. The rather conventional Alice starts following her dreams, meeting a white rabbit that guides her through a wonderland. Alice views it all with amazement and learns - finally returning to the real world, richer for the experience. The phenomenal fairy-tale settings and production were in the hands of Achim Freyer, who created a firework of colour and form. The marvellous costumes and puppets were created by Nina Weitzner, who was named "Costume Designer of the Year" by the German music magazine Opernwelt for her imaginative designs. And in a survey of the magazine's opera critics, Unsuk Chin's opera, which closed Kent Nagano's first season at the Bavarian State Opera, was hailed as the "World Première of the Year". This live recording of the premiere in the Nationaltheater in Munich in June 2007 provides a feast of audiovisual entertainment. This amazing theatrical and musical wonderland can now be experienced on DVD!« less
"It is quite challenging to take a complex book such as Lewis Carroll's 'Alice' as basis for a new opera. After all, it has nothing to do with the traditional operatic subjects. Just take Carroll's wordplays as an example: how can one render these into operatic action? However, compsoer Unsuk Chin and playwright David Henry Hwang, have succeeded. Hwang is a linguistic virtuoso, and he seems to thrive in transforming 'Alice' into singable texts. The music is rich, beautiful and many-sided, listener-friendly and challenging at the same time. Chin fuses her original musical style, which sounds sometimes non-Western in its extensive use of percussions and its intricate rhythms, with allusions to different musical epochs, which are often displayed in a whimsical way. Many contemporary operas lack a sense of drama, but not this one: it's simply great musical theatre in the spirit of Lewis Carroll. The musical performance is top-notch. Kent Nagano, an ingenious conductor especially for 20th century and contemporary music, shines with Chin's music and the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Choir are fabulous. The singers succeed in masterful performances although the music is very complex. As regards the staging: one can see that the German stage director Achim Freyer, who was also in charge of design and light, was an acclaimed stage designer before he began directing. The visual aspect is absolutely stunning: Freyer has created unique images which not many (if any) opera directors can match. The Art brut-like masks and puppets, at the same time touching and eerie, are made by Nina Weitzner. As regards Freyer's interpretation of 'Alice's' content: the director seems to be inspired by Siegmund Freud, and thus he takes the story deadly serious. There is not much room for the playfulness so crucial for Lewis Carroll's writing. Sometimes it is difficult to follow the stage action, as Freyer decided to double all roles with actors. There are a lot of grotesque ideas, which are sometimes interesting, sometimes maddening. It's a very eccentric staging and, according to the critic Alan Rich ([...]) it differs from the libretto - thus standing in the tradition of deconstructivist Central-European 'Regietheater'. The chaotic video directing doesn't make much sense and thus fails to do justice to the production. However, as this is the only document of a highly interesting and unusual opera, it deserves five stars."
A Frighteningly Real Fantasy
John Pearse | La Crosse, WI | 06/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Unlike other versions of this Wonderland tale, things are taken to a completely new level. Under the wing of the highly skillful Kent Nagano and the up-and-coming Unsuk Chin, Alice is brought into a wonderfully insightful new land of fantasy, one that sits on the very edge of reality.
The masterful stage direction, music, costuming, and everything else that went into this opera create a highly juxtaposed view on Wonderland. The staging itself draws greatly to the feeling of floating through a magical yet scary and dark landscape. This music completes the feeling of sharp jagged angles jutting through Alice imagination. Characters are much more malevolent than comical when the masks are on. They are brought to life by actors and actresses floating about the stage on cables, while the opera singers are safely performing on the ground in front of the forty-five degree angle stage.
All in all, this is an opera for those who are very open to new orchestral music. If you are willing to join Alice in this frightening new fantasy, I highly recommend you watch it. If you were hoping for a fun and comical opera, stay very far away from this."
Beautiful design, terrible video production
Cookiewise | San Rafael, CA USA | 05/29/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The music is intriguing, but mostly unlistenable. The design is beautiful, if incredibly monotonous and repetative. most of the time, the characters are standing in one place. That is probably why they never stop moving the video camera--zooming in and out, dutching the camera, and using split screen in ways that do not enhance the show, but reveal further it's inherent problems. It's a static show, but it looks as if J.J. Abrams shot it--the camera NEVER stops moving.
Fantastic composer's rendition of ALICE
M. Cally | pianoland | 07/05/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This contemporary piece by Unsuk Chin is an amazing work which has been captured on this dvd. The conductor, Kent Nagano is one of the world's finest. This is a unique performance of high quality."
A dark, grotesque, dispiriting Alice
R. Hutchinson | a world ruled by fossil fuels and fossil minds | 01/18/2010
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I had moved on from this DVD, deciding not to pile on with another negative review. The forthcoming movie from Tim Burton with Johnnie Depp is what provoked me to add my reaction, given that others may now be more likely to find this version.
First off, most conventional music fans and traditional opera-lovers will not enjoy this avant opera. It is dark and grotesque, utilizing Freudian imagery in the service of an obtusely feminist rendition of the well-known story. I am not a conventional music fan nor a traditional opera-lover. I am an afficionado of the avant-garde, and I have enjoyed previous works by the composer, Unsuk Chin, who was born in South Korea but now lives in Berlin (see for instance this set of chamber music in the DG label's now defunct 20/21 series which I reviewed upon its 2005 release). But I find this opera to be dispiriting -- it does not move me musically or dramatically. The staging and costumes are fairly impressive in some sequences, not so much in others.
I am quite disappointed that Chin's promise was not fulfilled here. I am at a loss as to how this ALICE received so much acclaim in Germany, where it was acclaimed as the premiere-of-the-year by a leading opera magazine after its debut at the 2007 Munich Opera Festival. Germany supports more music theater, and more avant music theater, than elsewhere, and novelty is more rewarded there, that is my only explanation.
If you are interested in contemporary avant opera, you may find my list of interest: LATE 20TH/21ST CENTURY AVANT OPERAS."