Neil Gaiman’s 2002 children’s story Coraline has had many adaptations over the years, the most notable being Henry Selick’s 2009 stop motion animation film. The Royal Opera’s Coraline is a family friendly adaptation following the fiercely brave 11 year old girl Coraline, who finds a curious doorway in her new home that leads to a parallel universe. Here her ‘Other Mother’ and ‘Other Father’ lull her into a false sense of security with promises of delicious food and endless playtime, but if she wants to stay forever, she’ll have to sew buttons onto her eyes just like them. Unsure about this disturbing caveat, Coraline returns home to find her parents stuck inside a snow globe and undertakes a bold and daring plan to set them free.
Composed by Mark Anthony Turnage, the score is suitably eerie and sparse creating a disjointed and unstable world. However the consistent discord is, although fitting, not pleasing to endure and I was craving a melody by the interval. The occasional rhyming couplet from librettist Rory Mullarkey adds a welcome playfulness and reinforces the childlike spirit of the piece.
From watching the trailer you’d be forgiven for thinking this was an adult horror piece, but the bright and open set with warped perspectives is definitely strange but certainly not frightening. The soprano Mary Bevan plays a tenacious Coraline, and it’s her energy alone that drives the narrative at times. Kitty Whately is superb as ‘Mother/Other Mother’ and is truly quite terrifying towards the end. Alexander Robin Baker creates an endearing ‘Father/Other Father’ with his marvellously awkward dad dancing – any opera that can crow bar in Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ choreography gets a thumbs up from me. Coraline’s quirky and eccentric neighbours are wonderfully characterised and Dominic Sedgwick almost steals the show with his hippy ghost child from the seventies.
To use opera as a vehicle for this narrative is an interesting choice. As a sung through piece it creates a heightened and surreal quality that is directly complimentary to this extraordinary story. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that the very conventions of opera held back and suspended the narrative in places where it should be building and driving forward. As an introductory opera for children however, it does well balancing suspense and intrigue with silliness and fun.
Even after a few frights and jumps and a wandering severed hand, Coraline prevails as the triumphant heroine who realises she is capable of anything she sets her mind to, and that is surely an excellent Easter message for any family to take home.
Written by @SAnnakin99