The Michigan Opera Theatre's "Alice in Wonderland" is at the Kennedy Center's Musical Theatre Lab through this Saturday. It is a delightful and delightfully slight work. And the children last night seemed to be having a wonderful time.
Robert Chauls' 1974 opera sticks closely to Lewis Carroll's essentials, and the Michigan cast goes a long way to compensate for the longueurs of the score and the bad grammar of the libretto. Valerie Errante is a charming Alice, her soprano instrument remaining sweet amid all the mischief. The baritone Ronald Williams was the children's favorite in several roles, including the Duchess and the King of Hearts. Dan Boggess was best as a tenor White Rabbit, also becoming the Cheshire Cat and the Mock Turtle throughout the evening. And Kathleen Segar dominated with her commanding mezzo as the Queen of Hearts. Suzanne Acton kept the piano accompaniment crisp.
The score is totally derivative, though not so much of contemporary American opera as of its healthier sister, the Broadway musical. In this respect this "Alice" is less ambitious than Elizabeth Swados' recent "Alice at the Palace," but it is also less pretentious and probably works better for its intended audience. At least one episode, the Lobster Quadrille, was more interesting in this version. And as things got curiouser and curiouser, the tots seemed to get more and more fascinated.
While you probably should not go so far as to borrow a child for the occasion, if you have one you really should take him or her to the Kennedy Center before "Alice" leaves this Saturday. Opera for children so rarely delights children that this is one not to miss.