The Los Angeles Philharmonic is going down the rabbit hole with its multimedia opera version of "Alice in Wonderland."
Director/designer/video artist Netia Jones teamed with composer Unsuk Chin and librettist David Henry Hwang to create the adaptation.
Inside a downtown soundstage weeks before the performances, lines of tape have been put down to approximate the dimensions of the Disney Hall stage. At one end of the space there's a partially finished, multi-platform set piece — an imposing black-and-white monolith of angular shapes and switchback levels. This is where the Queen of Hearts can be found currently holding court.
Jones says it’s "one of my favorite things to have ever worked on” and describes the event as “crazed and absolutely brilliant.”
Jones promises this production will almost have it all: live action singing and dancing, video projections, animation, creepy mouse costumes and even creepier old men costumes. There will be so much going on visually that calling it an opera seems somehow wrong.
Jones disagrees with this statement. “Opera is, by very definition, multimedia," she says. "As it should, opera is moving with the time and embracing all the media available” to remain a “fresh and relevant art form.”
For example, Jones doesn’t conduct the musicians during the performance. Instead, she directs, or as she describes it, “plays” the opera from her laptop, while cueing hundreds of visuals in real time to interact with the other performers, like some kind of power-point presentation from hell.
"Alice" is part of the L.A. Philharmonic’s in/SIGHT series, in which every concert is billed as “a sensory feast for eye and ear.” The chef for this particular "eye feast" is artist Ralph Steadman, the illustrator of Hunter S. Thompson’s articles in Rolling Stone. So, no, not your traditional operatic trappings.
But while some fans might be put off by the innovations, Jones simply says, “Haters gonna hate.”
“Of course when something is new to an audience, some people are resistant, and others are enthusiastic," Jones says. "It’s the same thing that happened when the electric light was introduced into the theater. There was an outcry that the electric light was going to ruin theater and be the worst thing that can happen. But obviously it became adopted as a fairly useful tool.”