Mike Batt’s The Hunting of the Snark is finally getting a U.S. release on July 12th on his own label Dramatico. The original 1980’s concept album featured Art Garfunkel, Roger Daltrey, George Harrison, Stephane Grappelli, Sir John Gielgud, John Hurt, Captain Sensible, Deniece Williams, Julian Lennon, Sir Cliff Richard and a kitchen sink. Mike Batt was interviewed last week by American Songwriter’s Evan Schlanksy, about his take on “Snark” and the history of the piece:
Give us an overview of The Hunting Of The Snark album.
I made this album in the early eighties, – purely on a whim, and having fallen in love with Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem. I wrote all new lyrics (and utilized his poem as narration between the songs). It’s a mad story of 10 characters who all go off looking for the SNARK, whatever it is, – and it is whatever you want it to be. Some might see it as money, some as religion, some as love, some as just a beast of flesh and blood. That’s what the album and subsequent stage show explore – the different points of view many people can take about the same thing. I made the album using the London Symphony Orchestra, and a great cast of stars, from Art Garfunkel to Roger Daltrey, Deniece Williams and even a cameo from George Harrison. It was a fantastic experience.
Why put it out now?
It’s never been out in the States – and in fact never had a full release in the UK either, way back, because of a dispute with the record company. I’ve now reacquired it and am issuing it on my own label, Dramatico. I think it is among my best work as a writer, arranger and orchestrator – and it would be a pity for it never to have seen the light of day.
Any favorite memories or interesting stories from the theatrical performance?
We played some fun concerts of it in Australia, – and also in the UK. Costumed concerts with the whole orchestra dressed up in nautical outfits, and the cast working in front of them, oratorio style. Then it progressed to the West End, like a full “Broadway” production. We had a 50 piece orchestra live on stage every night – so consequently we couldn’t afford to keep it on for long (7 weeks) but it was a hugely rewarding experience. We did things like plant dancers in the orchestra and so suddenly the cello section would start doing backflips, – we even had someone “fish” a viola player out of the orchestra from a bridge, above, using a fishing rod (and a flying harness!). It was totally insane.
Tell us how you went about putting the album together from a songwriting perspective.
I literally scored it straight onto full orchestral manuscript, starting with an empty page and working from front to end. It was before the days of Finale and Sibelius, so the good old 2B pencil and eraser were my tools. I had 3 months in which to write it, having given myself that deadline in order to perform it at an LSO concert I had been invited to conduct. I allowed myself a lot of freedom, but didn’t steal any lyrics from Lewis Carroll. I do, as I said earlier – quote him verbatim, as verse between the songs. I wanted to write something that was intriguing, originaland commercial. I think the fact that I was brought up on The Beatles has something to do with both my choice of subject matter and the whimsical quality of the songs.
Among all the projects you’ve worked on, what are some of your personal favorites? Which ones do people say moved them the most?
If you’re in Pittsburgh this weekend, the symphony will perform Final Alice (1972) by David Del Tredici, the Pulizer-winning American composer who spent much of his earlier career being inspired by Carroll’s writings. Final Alice is “an opera in concert form for soprano, folk ensemble, and orchestra.” Leonard Slatkin conducts and Hila Pitmann sings the Soprano Alice part at the Heinz Hall, tonight and Sunday. There’s a nice profile on Del Tredici and the piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today: ‘Wonderland’ led composer through looking glass preview by Andrew Druckenbrod.
Soprano Hila Plitmann as Alice in "Final Alice"
As Mr. Del Tredici started to traverse the fantastical world of Carroll (the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-98), he slowly began to shift from 12-tone music to the lush tonal style that occasionally recalled the Romantic sound of the 19th century.
“I did it very gradually,” he said. “My first ‘Alice’ work — ‘Jabberwocky’ (from ‘Pop-Pourri’ of 1968) — was atonal. It was a monster and it could be atonal, but there was a chorale in it; I was using found tonal objects.”
“An Alice Symphony” (1969) cast tonality “like a visitor from another planet.” “Vintage Alice” (1972) went further — it is tonal, but with different keys competing with each other. It was only in “Final Alice” (1976), which the Pittsburgh Symphony will perform in its rare full version this weekend, that Mr. Del Tredici took his biggest step. Written for soprano-narrator, folk group and orchestra, he felt “it had to be really Romantic and tonal.”
It was “Final Alice” that really jolted the orchestral community in the United States. No less than the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered it in 1976.
The 1980 recording with Sir George Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is on Amazon here. There are some extensive program notes here by Slatkin about the piece when he performed it at the Kennedy Center.
Edward Staudenmayer (Rabbit) in Wonderland: A New Musical
Wonderland: A New Musical (formerly known as Wonderland: A New Musical Adventure) started previews today, March 21st, at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway. It stars Janet Dacal, who created the role of the “modern-day Manhattan mom named Alice” in Tampa Bay, alongside former Miss America Kate Shindle as Mad Hatter. It will open officially April 17th, assuming multiple actors don’t break bones and it gets pushed back six months.
However, there’s some other Broadway buzz which might cast a bandersnatchian shadow over the proceedings. Disney, whose Broadway franchises include the hugely successful Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, has announced they will turn their Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland, the sixth highest grossing film of all time, into a Broadway Musical. And Tim Burton himself has agreed to help with the design. Linda Woolverton, who wrote the screenplay for the movie as well as the screenplay for The Lion King and the scripts for Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast and Aida, will be writing the script for this also.
If Wonderland: A New Musicalis a long-running hit (as composer Frank Wildhorn’s previous shows Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel have both been), could there be dueling Wonderlands on Broadway!?
Meanwhile, here’s a “sneak peek” of the new Wonderland: A New Musical, if you can’t afford the $49-$132 ticket price.
The Belgian Pop trio K3 will be starring in “Alice in Wonderland le Musical” in Antwerp, April 9th through 25th, 2011. I can’t embed the promo videos, but I highly recommend them – link here.
K3 appear to all be playing Alice, but in three different colors. Here’s a google-translated description (from the Dutch) of the show:
Karen, Kristel and Josje bored and the three of us going to the movies. Once at the cinema arrived, they end up in the story of Alice in Wonderland. They decide to go Alice warn all that lies ahead, but they are all too late. Their search for Alice is full of surprises and nothing is what it seems. [...]
‘Alice in Wonderland’ takes you on a magical adventure in a magical world of fantasy. Are you going to Karen, Kristel and Josje last?
3D World first:
In the musical “Alice in Wonderland ‘for the first time in a musical world use 3D sceneries. The same technique is used to show 3D movies in the cinema.
Visitors of the musical will get a pair of glasses for the 3D effects to be observed. The public has the ultimate experience to sit in the middle of the story and together with K3 to adventure in the wonderland of Alice in Wonderland.
The musical promises to be a unique total experience with a live orchestra, spectacular 3D scenery and breathtaking costumes.
The story of the musical is based on the famous, written by Lewis Caroll, story ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “(1865) and its sequel” Behind the Looking Glass and what Alice found there “(1871).
I thought live theater was in 3D already?
UPDATE: Thank you Europopped for e-mailing us that K3 has already released an Alice-themed video this year!
We are big fans of Alicenations, one of several blogs of the Lewis Carroll Society of Brazil managed by Adriana Peliano. The site regularly features original and experimental music, video, and illustrations created by Adriana, together with her husband Paulo Beto, and inspired by the Alice books.
Here’s a recent creation which began life as a damaged Disney LP:
Many years ago I found a Disney Alice Record completely warped. I suddenly began to play with its stutter sounds, noises, voices and echoes, creating and recording a musical puzzle. The result is a funny game of words, a collage with dislocated meanings. My actual husband, Paulo Beto, boyfriend at that time, who is an amazing electronic music composer, recreated the material, remixing the jumping sounds.
The video below (a work in progress) makes use of some of the resulting music. Visit Alicenations for further description of the project, and the opportunity to download mp3s.
We’re tempted to chalk this one up to a bad case of Engrish mistranslation from our friends across the Pacific. It’s easy to see how “Wonderland” could have been misread as “Waterland,” and the “Mad Hatter” may have been literally interpreted as “Angry Hat.”
In any case, how we are supposed to believe that they’re pouring a cup of tea underwater? How the hell are you going to drink it? Could they have made a more disturbing Alice in Wonderland cover?
I think all LCSNA members will know the answer to that last question.
When our cousins the Lewis Carroll Society of Brazil held their first “Alice Day” in May this year, one of the main events was the live performance of a new soundtrack to the silent Alice in Wonderland (1903). The music was composed by Paulo Beto and performed by the band Frame Circus on keyboards, cello, percussion and Theremin.
Thank you to Adriana Peliano for sending us news of the event. Adriana tends Alicenations, the blog of the Lewis Carroll Society of Brazil. The above video featured in her Alice Day blog post, along with another soundtrack by Frame Circus, and a video of Leon Theremin playing his own instrument.
No need to report every time a Jabberwocky word is used somewhere, but this was a good one. Alex Ross, The New Yorker‘s classical music critic (and author of the excellent musical/political history of the 20th century The Rest Is Noise), in the middle of complaining about the flood of anniversary-year Chopin recordings, describes a showy pianist’s contribution thus:
Lang Lang, the other big Chinese virtuoso, galumphs through the two piano concertos on [Deutsche Grammophon].
Whether Ross means it in the sense of moving “heavily or clumsily” (Wiktionary) or in the more Carrollian sense of triumphant galloping, is up for interpretation. LCSNA blog followers, keep watching for interesting modern uses of Carroll coinages!
Back in November, Frank Wildhorn’s musical “Wonderland: A New Alice” premiered in Tampa Bay Florida. Yesterday it was announced that they are heading for Broadway and the big time. The show is set to open on April 17, 2011 and previews will begin a month before. The cast is yet to be announced.
“Journey with a modern-day Alice to Wonderland and the Looking-Glass World where she must find her daughter, defeat the Queen and learn to follow her heart…”
A synopsis, video montage, and musical clips from the 2009 production can still be enjoyed on this blog.
Thanks to Mahendra Singh for reminding us that 136 years ago today Lewis Carroll began his composition of The Hunting of the Snark, “and thus, in a semiotic and hypermetaphysical manner, began decomposing the non-existence of The Hunting of the Snark.” Read more at his excellent blog.
In celebration of Snark Day, here is the full text the first edition, published by Macmillan and Co. in 1876.
In lieu of a rendition of “Happy Birthday To You,” we suggest listening to Billy Connolly as the Bellman in the 1987 April Fool’s Day performance of Mike Batt’s Snark musical. When the musical was originally released as a concept album in 1986, the part of the Bellman was sung by Cliff Richard, possibly the only time Billy Connolly and Cliff Richard have proved substitutable in popular culture.
Finally, Mr. Singh (an LCSNA member and Knight Letter editor) is publishing his own beautiful Snark illustrations, coming out November 2nd, 2010, from Melville House, and it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon.com here. Only $10.08! (Don’t be fooled by Amazon’s “look inside,” it links to another edition.) Previews of many of Singh’s illustrations can be seen on his blog, and I’ve reprinted one below.
From Mahendra Singh's illustrations for Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark