Victorian Opera’s first co-commission and co-production with the Royal Opera House – an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s cult 2002 novella Coraline – has just opened at London’s Barbican to some very positive four-star reviews. The season had already sold out before opening night. The new opera will be staged in Melbourne as part of Victorian Opera’s 2019 season, full details of which will be announced in September.
Coraline is the fourth opera by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, following Greek, his gritty retelling of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex set in the East End of London in the 1980s, Anna Nicole (his first ROH commission) about Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, and The Silver Tassie, a drama set in Britain during the First World War.
Dominic Sedgwick, Harry Nicoll and Gillian Keith as Ghost Child 1, 2 & 3, Mary Bevan as Coraline and Kitty Whately as Other Mother. Photograph © Stephen Cumminskey
A horror fantasy for children, Coraline tells the story of a young girl on the cusp of puberty who finds a strange door in her parents’ new home, which leads to a parallel flat where she is greeted by alternate versions of her parents with buttons sewn into their eyes. In 2009, it was adapted as a successful 3D stop-motion film directed by Henry Selick, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. The libretto for the opera, by Irish playwright Rory Mullarkey, condenses Gaiman’s narrative, and makes a few subtle changes.
In a four-star review Time Out described it as a “wryly creepy chamber opera for kids aged eight-plus (and brave parents)”, and “a clever dark comedy about the end of childhood with a few good scares thrown in”. The Guardian also gave it four stars, saying that Turnage’s score is “full of his trademark collisions between classical and popular music” and that the “creepy adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s tale will turn kids on to opera”. In another four-star review The Stage found the production “magical” and though that “young Gaiman aficionados will love it”.
The Independent gave it three stars, believing that both the score and libretto would benefit from some tightening and The Financial Times, in another three-star review, said: “Everything in Coraline works like clockwork, but it is an opera that never quite gets under the skin.”
Victorian Opera is committed to creating new operas, and opened its 2018 season with another opera created specifically for children, The Magic Pudding – The Opera. Coraline is co-produced with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Folkopera in Sweden, Opéra de Lille in France and Theater Frieberg in Germany.