CORALINE | London, Barbican

Celebrated composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s fourth opera is a small-scale chamber adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2002 novella (adapted into a movie by Laika in 2009). For kids and not for kids, it tells the story of 11-year-old Coraline (Mary Bevan) and her journey into a sinister parallel dimension where her “other mother” (Kitty Whately) has buttons for eyes.

With a stripped down Britten Sinfonia of only sixteen, Turnage is more limited in musical scope than usual, but delivers the goods in Act II with Coraline’s rousing and passionate call to arms. To achieve such richness musically with so little speaks volumes to the players and conductor Sian Edwards. Gaiman’s book doesn’t dumb down for children, and Turnage’s score is likewise; though at times uncharacteristically too splintery and dissonant to grab on to.

The cast of seven is excellent: Whately is a clear hit as both Coraline’s mother and other mother, while Alexander Robin Baker’s smooth, teddy-bear tenor is a particular vocal highlight. Bevan is perhaps too tall and womanly to play an 11-year-old girl, especially with much of her vocal line so low in register, but her strong soprano and childish energy make her a perfect lead.

Illusions like other father disappearing in a puff of smoke as other mother snaps the head off a gingerbread man, and a disembodied hand creeping across the mantelpiece, are particular theatrical highlights. Otherwise, the action takes place almost entirely between the four drab yellow walls of a living room, and is not particularly engaging visually. Still, speaking to children around in the audience, some fans of Gaiman’s original and all newcomers to opera, it’s clear this production captivates.

Coraline is sold out. Contact the Barbican for possible returns.

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