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.