Alice the opera: Happy to watch her arrive, but sad to see her go

In this final report, Michael Volpe is overjoyed to finally see Alice on stage

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The Independent Culture

Alice is here. She took nearly two years, yet still we had last-minute dramas, sets built on the fly and rehearsals following builders from site to site. Lesley Travers, confident of his deadline but big on relentless perfection, was fiddling with the giant teapot until the last. Alice, you see, arrived in a storm that had at its eye the monumental I Gioielli della Madonna on the main stage, so we were all stretched and pulled in different directions at the same time.

The first public performance took place among a throng of excited children and their parents, but lurking among them were the critics, as eager as anybody to meet Alice and her friends, not guaranteed to be benevolent towards her behaviour and more suspicious of her. Just like children, in fact, but with column inches and a public forum. We always knew that there would be judgment cast on Alice but it is inconceivable that an endeavour such as a new opera, so intensely applied for so long, could be easily diminished in our minds by a barb, a dismissal, indifference.

As the first performance ended, we had no doubts about its success, we knew that the opera hit the public's sweet spot – they laughed when they were supposed to, and they gulped and sniffed when Alice sang of flying high in her dreams, an aria that strikes me as a clarion call for all our hopes and wishes for this Alice.

But we all struggled to work out exactly how we should be feeling, having seen the arrival and then swift departure of a moment we'd held in our mind's eye for nearly two years. The earth still turns, the Royal baby still dominates the headlines, but ours was born first. And then, like the old-school producers of yesteryear, we waited with bated breath for the reaction.

Within a day, an opinion of note arrives; in the Daily Telegraph, John Allison says that Alice "is one of the most charming, least condescending operas for children I have seen". But what did the kids think? John's son was apparently "not alone in being totally engrossed".

The venerable Michael Church of The Independent, longish in operatic tooth and frequently sharp of claw (as he painfully was for a show of ours earlier in the season) loved it, his inner child proclaiming it a "sophisticated knockout".

The Big Issue injected a welcome note of humour when it said that "a particularly beautiful musical moment in the show, with its aching echoes of late Romanticism", clearly showed that, "the young ears of the audience should be ready for Strauss any day now." Too right.

In The Stage, our old friend George Hall was gently impressed without offering effusive praise, pointing out the number of spontaneous rounds of applause the music prompted. If I wasn't so fond of George I'd ring him angrily or send round the Red Queen, who he did think was "terrifying".

So there it is. Our contribution to the canon of family entertainment, done, dusted, running free on the Yucca lawn, delighting a new generation of opera goers. Me? I am little more than a spectator; others have the deep satisfaction of creation to warm their cockles. But I have enjoyed telling their story, one that I suspect will run, like the Rabbit, for some time to come.

Michael Volpe is general manager of Opera Holland Park, which runs until 3 Aug (operahollandpark.com)

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