The Adventures of Pinocchio

Subsequently a few U.S. companies have piloted Flight (if
you will) to stage including Opera Theater of St. Louis and Boston Lyric Opera.
Other than that, Dove is a fairly unknown name here.

A viewing of one of his more recent efforts, The Adventures of
, in its premiere run from the Opera North company in 2007,
doesn’t offer evidence that Dove’s work is set to make a
breakthrough here in the U.S. However, his score to Alasdair Middleton’s
libretto exhibits a formidable level of professionalism and orchestral
imagination (did your reviewer hear a banjo at one point?). Combined with a
playful and creative staging by Martin Donovan (with sets and costumes by
Francis O-Connor), the resulting work seems made for DVD — especially as
captured in the crisp and detailed picture of a Blu-Ray set.

That said, an opera being “made for DVD” shouldn’t be
mistaken for unreserved praise. If Dove’s music were removed or reduced
to soundtrack status, this production would probably be just as charming and
entertaining. Dove can create superficially appealing music, but it comes off
as derivative. Bits reminiscent of Britten, Sondheim, and especially
Jan·ček (think Cunning Little Vixen) pop up
frequently, and one delightful scene for the Ape-Judge has a swaggering tune
like something from Prokofiev. There’s a fine line between revealing
one’s influences and using them as the foundation for one’s own
work, and Dove resides in the latter part. With no keen musical identity of his
own, the score can’t establish itself as central to the work’s
value as a truly first-rate operatic score should.

Middleton’s libretto certainly gives Dove ample opportunity to show
off the composer’s range of influences. As stated over and over again in
the bonus feature interviews of composer, librettist, conductor and director,
this opera more closely follows the original source material of Carlo
Collodi’s novel than the more famous Walt Disney cartoon chose to do.
Written serially, Collodi’s novel is a picaresque, episodic and fantastic
in invention. This requires a huge cast, with several singers taking on more
than one role. If any one scene fails to grasp a viewer’s attention, that
viewer need not grow too impatient, for another and quite different scene will
be up shortly. There is no narrative arc to speak of – Pinocchio actually
“learns” his lesson about being a bad boy by the end of act one,
but he has to learn it all over again, and again and again, in act two, before
the curtain can finally come down. The tone throughout veers between a
light-hearted playfulness that children will enjoy to a darker-hued vision that
will keep an adult’s interest. The nearest point of comparison seems to
be Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel — among
that greater opera’s many virtues, it is much briefer. The
Adventures of Pinocchio
runs to around two and a half hours.

The title role goes to a mezzo, here in the person of Victoria Simmonds. Her
pleasant voice retains a high degree of femininity, although her acting is
boyish enough. O’Connor’s ingenious costume makes Simmonds into a
cartoonish yet believable figure. The huge supporting cast features many
amusing caricatures, with Mark White’s Cat and James Laing’s Fox,
two con artist animals, making particularly strong impressions. Established
baritone Jonathan Summers seems oddly strained by Gepetto’s music, and no
emotional connection really happens between him and the boy of wood, sapping
the ending of any resonance. Mary Palzas apparently has a substantial career as
a dramatic soprano in the UK. In the key role of The Blue Fairy, she has a
strong stage presence but the voice has a lot more edge than one might think a
Fairy would possess.

David Parry and the Opera North orchestra do well by Dove’s eclectic
score. As operatic entertainment The Adventures of
, while overlong, offers much, but it falls short of being
an authentic accomplishment. Should composer Dove move beyond his influences,
he may well yet prove to a major voice.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Jonathan Dove: The Adventures of Pinocchio
product_title=Jonathan Dove: The Adventures of Pinocchio (Libretto by Alasdair Middleton)
product_by=Pinocchio: Victoria Simmonds; Geppetto: Jonathan Summers; The Blue Fairy: Mary Plazas; Cricket / Parrot: Rebecca Bottone; Puppeteer / Ape-Judge / Ringmaster: Graeme Broadbent; Lampwick: Allan Clayton; Cat: Mark Wilde; Fox / Coachman: James Laing; Pigeon / Snail: Carole Wilson. Opera North Chorus and Orchestra. David Parry, conductor. Martin Duncan, stage director. Recorded live at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, on 29 February and 1 March 2008.
product_id=Opus Arte OABD7019D [Blu-Ray DVD]