Little Women by Mark Adamo. Opera Holland Park, London W8 in repertoire to 5 August 2022. 3***. Clare Colvin

Louisa May Alcott;s semi-autobiographical novel Little Women has been part of the growing up process of American girlhood for nearly 150 years, and so to a lesser extent British young women too. The characters of the four Marc girls, offspring ofpoor but “tooproud to beg” New Eng.and parents are skillfully differentiated, so that the reader can pick her favourite. Thereis pretty, caring Meg, who has elelemts of the girls’ mother, Marmee; fiery spiriteed and bookish Jo who represented Alcott’s other self; gentle, fading Beth, doomed not to grow up; and worldly Amy, eager for adventure to Europe. Set against the cost sorority is the agent of change in the men who come into their lives, led by boyhood pal Laurie whose would=be transition to lover of Jo leads to a schismatic shift in the sisters’ lives.

there have been four film version of Little Women over the years from 1933, 1949, 1994 and 2019. Mark Adamo’s first opera Little Women, premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 1998, arrives after a European tour for its UK premiere as part of OHP’s 2022 season. Directed by Ella Marchmen with Madeleine Boyd’s sets of separate picture framed platforms, designed to adapt to the alternate OHP repertoire, the proeduction lends itself to the episodic nature of the libretto, written by the composer from the original novel. There is a lot to fit into the stage time and the sinle words and dashes of Paul Hastie’s suritltes tend to be distracting rather than emlightening.

The opera opens to the adult Jo and her ftiend Laurie meeting after his recent marriage to Amy and then moves back to the past where Jo (Charlottte Badham) dons her writing cap to scribble away in the attic at her novel. Deeply set in the need to keepo her sisters close to her and to supportthem through writingbest-sellers, Jo’s fears are raised when Laurie’s tutot John Brook (Harry Thatcher) begins courting Meg (a lively Kitty Whately). The cracks grow wider when Frederick Jones’s ardent Laurie falls in love with Jo, who brusquely rejects him. At Meg and John’s wedding Beth (Harriet Eyley) collapses and the celebrations are disrupted.

The second part is where telegrams, change of place, and a benefictnt Aunt March (Lucy Schaufer) play an important role, adding necessary impetus to the narrative, Jo goes to New York and meets her huisband to be, German professir Friedrich Bhaer – baritone Benson Wilson’s beautiful renering of Goethe’s “Kennst du Das Land” is the highlight of the evening. Conductor Sian Edwards directs the City of London Sinfonia with pace and the entire cast gives it all. At the end one is left with the intriguing question – did Louisa May Alcott, who never married, have any longings for the life she imagined for her other self of a happy marriage and motherhood? We shall never know.

Production photograph: Ali Wright.

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