New Opera: The Adventures of Pinocchio Offers nice return to the original story

The Adventures of Pinocchio is a new opera by Composer Jonathan Dove. It had its American premiere by Minnesota Opera at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St Paul. Of the reviews, they all seem to have the general impression of a charming night at the theater, but warn against anyone expect a Disney interpretation. Composer Jonathan Dove and Librettist Alasdair Middleton return to the original story Carlo Collodi's novel with all of its dark elements.

While all the reviews speak positively of the overall performance, there are some luke warm comments about the music. Dominic P. Papatola of Twincities.com writes:

Composer Jonathan Dove seemed to relish the chance to work in the realm of folktale and fantasy: He uses the orchestra — under the able baton of Anne Manson — and his singers like a toy-chest. Faced with the challenge of making a hunk of wood sing (the whimsical, opening image features a fallen trunk demanding that Geppetto "take me home and make me"), Dove gives voice to crickets, cats, donkeys and fairies in a score that flirts now and again with dissonance but remains ear-pleasing.

Rebecca Mitchell of the Twin Cities Daily Planet gave a similar response, "Although Dove’s music is not particularly memorable, the relative familiarity of the story and the fact that the opera is in English make Pinocchio a good introduction to an art form many have never experienced."

Larry Fuchsberg of the Star Tribune gave perhaps the warmest reception to the music in this US production:

"Dove's writing is assured, apt, efficient and occasionally stirring. (The brief recognition scene for Pinocchio and Geppetto in the shark's belly is a moment of real pathos in a score that needs more of them.) He excels at devising distinct sonic signatures for his many characters. Yet his music is too often uneventful and unmemorable, lacking the sinew to bind the opera's disjunct scenes together."

Overall the performance was well received. Even the cooler comments were tempered with warm sentiment. The previous premiere in the UK last year by Opera North earned similar reviews. Anna Picard of The Independent wrote:

"As the puppet grows into a boy, the blunt crack of a slap-stick mellows into the warm tones of a marimba. There's a dash of Janacek here, a slice of Ravel, a twist of Strauss, a glow of Dvorak, a pinch of Dankworth, a wash of Britten, a nudge of de Falla, a splash of Piazzolla, even a hefty dollop of Wagner with the whale playing Fafner to Pinocchio's Siegfried neatly threaded through a score whose core is a pumped-up hybrid of Adams and Bernstein (but where is Dove?). Middleton's lyrics, when audible, are smart rather than brilliant, and though Pinocchio the character eventually achieves his dream of being fully human, Pinocchio the show remains trapped in a half-life: part-opera, part-musical, flamboyantly orchestrated but lacking a killer tune."

Hugh Canning of the TimesOnline was perhaps the most glowing about the score, "Dove takes great pains to bring colouristic variety to his score – his glittering, spangly music for the Blue Fairy scenes and the pulsing energy of his big theatrical set pieces strike me as his most signal successes." But even with that Hugh hopes "Dove will have the courage to shorten it for future revivals."

David Denton of the Yorkshire Post details what the music sounds like, "Dove is one of today's most fashionable composers in the world of opera and has now braved the wrath of the music establishment by returning to all the traditions of 19th century opera. It is most rewarding for the singers in its lyric quality, and seeks popular acclaim with a score that falls so easily on the most conservative ears while still employing very modern musical devises."

Based on the reviews, it doesn't seem like Dove took the suggestion and shortened the piece. I'm not sure there were any re-writes at all. And perhaps, with the fairly positive reviews on both sides of the water, this opera doesn't need it. It may not become a Turandot or La Traviata, but it does seem to strike a chord with the audience, and that's what really matters.

"The Adventures of Pinocchio"
through March 8
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
Tickets: $150-$20
Information: 612-333-6669 or mnopera.org

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