In wonderland as Alice joins the adventure

Michael Volpe continues his monthly series on staging an opera premiere

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The Independent Culture

The turn of the year brings an urgency of purpose to all of us at Opera Holland Park because we know from experience that if you blink, you miss the first three months of the year. For our new opera of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, there is a brand to establish and since we start selling tickets in April we had better shake a leg. Images from designers flood in with hats, candy sticks, rabbit's ears, be-skirted silhouettes tumbling through the air and myriad iconography plucked from childhood's mind's eye. One had a similarity to the Roger Dean artwork for the album cover of Yes's Tales from Topographic Oceans and another featured billowy trees morphing into text: Alice's Yellow Submarine, anyone?

It has been fascinating to realise that this book is so powerfully and similarly ingrained in collective psyche(delia). Twitter welcomes @aliceoperaohp and new funding has been acquired too, which gives further reassurance that it is a work whose time has come. We will keep expanding the family of givers.

The opera itself continues to be massaged and moulded (a whole scene was rearranged that freed up sections either side – ah, the thrill of creation and its unpredictability) and as composer, librettist and producers work through the recording of the workshop line by line, we got news that Will Todd's arrangement of “Amazing Grace” would be performed at Obama's private pre-inauguration mass, another dazzling feather in his cap to follow the choral piece he composed for the Queen's Jubilee. Perhaps the Prez will join us on the lawn one sunny summer afternoon?

As Will sets about writing the orchestral parts he has a heart full of vigorous confidence and talk turns to the idea of producing a recording of two key arias so that we can give people a taste of Alice's musical world.

The time has also come to get on with casting and establishing the artistic team. Alice – iconic little Alice – will be sung by Welsh soprano Fflur Wyn. She looks and sounds deliciously perfect. OHP favourites Rob Burt, Keel Watson, Stephanie Bodsworth and John Lofthouse are added. “Lofty” excelled as the farmer in Fantastic Mr Fox, hurling himself through the woods, gun in hand (bravely on one occasion as the Japanese prime minister and his fortunately inattentive armed bodyguards were close by in the Kyoto Garden).

Office meetings take on a surreal quality: “We have now cast the singing bottle and it looks like we have our cat.” One gets used to such things when working in the theatre and I can't begin to tell you how otherwordly things can get.

Meanwhile, designer Leslie Travers scribbles and doodles his ideas in a back room somewhere and we eagerly await his first finished presentations. It is a curious fact that when we announce a show we don't actually have a product for several months at least which only starts to take real shape once the concepts are signed off and work starts in the rehearsal room.

We are selling nothing but a promise until then. This is true even when it is a major, classical work but the sense of mystery is intensified for a piece that nobody beyond those directly involved has even heard. It is both exciting and cause for mild anxiety but as Alice begins to assume real form we have nothing but optimism. Then again, it is only February...

Michael Volpe is general manager of Opera Holland Park