Moody screens Westergaard’s Alice In Wonderland opera

Jamie Lyons

Peter Westergaard is as delightful as he is accomplished.

With an impressive seven operas under his belt, and countless other pieces for voice and instrument, Westergaard has undoubtedly achieved his childhood dream to be a composer.

The world-renowned composer is about to finish his stay at the University as an endowed chair. As a farewell, the School of Music is showing a video screening of one of his most recent works, “Alice In Wonderland,” an ensemble opera for seven singers.

A video screening of live performances of “Alice In Wonderland” will be shown on Thursday night at 7:30 pm in the Recital Hall of Moody Music Building. The event is free for all.

The composer will be giving a lecture before the screening, starting at 6:30 pm in the same room. He will speak about the piece and its production.

A review in The New York Times called Westergaard’s “Alice in Wonderland” “a dramatically fantastical and musically modernistic adaption of the Lewis Carroll classic.”

Westergaard said he prefers to compose operas of well-known literary works, or what he calls “plundering the classics,” such as Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

“Can you ask for anything more iconic?” he said.

He said he had always wanted to compose an adaption of Lewis Carroll’s work.

“All the marvelous characters… irresistible,” Westergaard said. “I didn’t feel ready until just a few years ago.

“Alice In Wonderland” is a “peculiar opera,” he said, “with no orchestra and seven singers performing thirty five roles.”

The video production for Thursday’s screening is a seamless compilation of two live performances, one at Princeton and one in New York City.

“The video captures some terrific singing/acting,” Westergaard said, adding that the performers “just appear to be talking, when they are actually singing difficult music.”

Westergaard said the scenery is all on a projection screen, and was made as a recreation of the drawings done by the famous illustrator for Lewis Carroll’s book, John Tenniel. The costumes are also created to reflect the style of Tenniel.

Westergaard said he stayed very true to the original story.

“It’s not at all like I imagine the new Alice movie is,” he said. “My opera is very true to the Lewis Carroll story.”

Westergaard’s “Alice is Wonderland” is soon to be released on Albany Records, and this video showing is a special preview for the University and community.

Thomas Robinson, assistant professor of theory explained that the School of Music has an endowed chair series that invites a professional in music to come to the University as a visiting composer or theorist.

This year, the University is hosting Westergaard as a visiting composer. In this role, he has put on a variety of special events, like the ones this week, as well as taught one on one lessons to composition students.

A concert on Wednesday night featured students performing works by Westergaard. The composer said that he concert was “a remarkable feat for the students who performed five tough pieces by me, that weren’t written for students.”

Robinson said that scope of Westergaard’s operas would make it difficult to prepare and perform during his short eight weeks at the University, so it was decided to “follow up with the video to give students and the broader community a better idea of what our guest composer’s music is.”

Westergaard said his time in Alabama was “lovely,” and he hopes that people here will enjoy the opera as much as the live audience did.