Coraline: The Opera Review

Coraline is a modern classic children's book with a story that is in the tradition of Grimm fairy tales. The novel is about an 11 year old girl, Coraline,  who moves to a new and mysterious house with her busy parents. As Coraline is left to her own devices she explores her new abode and discovers a doorway to a parallel world where everything seems much the same as her mundane world but with one key difference, the people have buttons for eyes.

"Fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." This quote, attributed to G. K. Chesterton, prefaced the original run of the book in 2002 and seems suitable, as the tale of a lonely but resourceful young girl recalls the morals we learnt from fairy tales of old, before the Disney-fication of darker threads and plots from the original folk tales.

The book has an interesting premise and was turned into a popular stop motion animated movie in 2009 and has now, remarkably been turned into an opera. The story by Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, the Sandman series of graphic novels and much more, seems to be a favourite amongst adults and children alike so seems like a good fit for the stage... but an opera, that is a bold move to say the least.

For a two week run the set was pretty impressive.

Whenever you bring a book and adapt it for the stage there is a difficult balancing act to perform, you want to make sure it stays true to the source material for the fan base without alienating those who don't know the original source material, but you also want to add flourishes and touches that are afforded by changing the medium the tale is told through. Couple that with the fact that this is an opera aimed at the youth and you have an incredibly difficult task on your hand.

So with all this in mind, how does the Coraline opera fare? Well, my only experience with opera was when I watched Count Hoffman by Offenback at the Theatro De La Scala in Milan 10 years ago (my friend and I did it to be all cultural but loved it), Satyagraha, the (very) long opera about the life of Gandhi which nearly drove me to madness with its Philip Glass score and 3 1/2 hour run time and lastly the amazing opera scene in Final Fantasy 6. So, my knowledge on the subject is scant at best but I really enjoyed this production.

The staging was impressive for an obviously small scale production. The music was good but hardly hummable or memorable, but it did the job well moving from sweet strings in one moment to a dark facsimile with a more herky jerky feel, recalling Susamu Yokota's creepy colliopy sound from his track Fukuro No Yume. Even though the whole performance had no surtitles, being familiar with the book and film I understood what was going on as everything was spoken in sing-song English.

The opera was just over 2 hours long and this seems like the perfect amount of time. I liked the opera but it did seem to take a long time to move along and there were periods where I was nodding off, but that's me listening to any type of music nowadays whilst being seated rather than a knock on the production. The show was a sellout and there was a huge mix in the audience with lots of young children as well as adults. 

Coraline the opera is worth seeing but not being an opera lover I won't be rushing to see any more operas for a few years.