The music for “Down the Rabbit Hole” was written by ZOLLINO, a British composer and producer also known as Nino Russell. I have loved singing his music in primary schools across Winsford and can’t wait to perform the storybook opera in London and Surbiton next week. In the blog post today, I thought I would share with you our working process and how the score was brought to life.
I first met Nino in 2016 when we both attended the Royal College of Music in London. We would meet to rehearse musical ideas and concepts and eventually develop the pieces ready for performance and recording. He has a wicked sense of humour and is very pragmatic with both organisation skills and writing for the voice.
After completing the Research & Development for “Down the Rabbit Hole” in February 2022, I knew that I wanted to commission a new score which could showcase the creative abilities of British Sign Language (BSL) and allow me to adapt the narrative of the classic tale of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. I was thrilled when Nino agreed to join the team and write the music.
At first, we met to discuss the storyboard and the brief for the opera. In this general discussion, I highlighted which scenes I wanted to cover, and together we discussed the tone of the piece and basic musical ideas. We were also lucky to collaborate with flautist and artistic director of Audiovisability, Ruth Montgomery, who worked on the project as a Music Consultant, providing insight into how to make music accessible to the deaf community. I knew that I wanted to engage the children in a performative activity during the opera so that they could be creative and perform as part of the storytelling. I imagined them performing a Sign-Song during the opera inspired by the text from the “Queen of Hearts who baked some tarts” nursery rhyme with a couple of word changes as we went along to fit the BSL poetry, so The Knave of Hearts, He saw those tarts, And took them clean away. The King of Hearts, Called for the Tarts, And Was Upset At What He Saw. (There were three layers of upset with steam coming from his nose, ears and finally his head explodes in anger).
We decided to begin the composition process with this piece as we wanted to create learning videos and distribute them to the schools in January 2023 before the performances in March 2023, to give the students time to prepare and learn the BSL poem.
Nino, George and I met with actress Zoë McWhinney in October 2022 to discuss this activity. Zoë created a BSL poetic translation, which we then connected with a musical pulse (a steady and continuous beat). Connecting the BSL poem with a pulse enabled Nino to write music that could accompany the poem. Then in November, we met up to record the demonstration video and the audio tracks. I was thrilled with the composition as the melody reminded me of romantic ballet suites, and the virtuosic piano part excites the ear with cascading triplets which run the full length of the piano range, showcasing the magic of classical music.
In December 2022, I shared the final draft of the complete Libretto with Nino, and I loved that he involved George and me in the compositional process, as we would receive drafts of the musical scenes, which we would sight-read and send back recordings. It was like receiving pieces of an enchanted jigsaw that would be connected over several weeks to complete the final version.
I asked Nino if he could share his personal thoughts on this experience.
“Charlotte captured Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland in the playful libretto adapted from the novel, which inspired me to approach the music with the same surrealist enthusiasm! I tried to use as many colourful melodies and textures as possible within the opera to portray this fantastical world.”
I wanted to strike a balance between not overloading the children with music that was too complex and yet showcasing opera as a powerful story-telling form that is accessible to everyone.
It was particularly fascinating for me to consult with Zoë McWhinney, Ruth Montgomery and Naomi Gray about integrating sign language within the opera, which presented its own challenges — for instance, to consider the use of meter and define a clear pulse in certain scenes where synchronicity between the signs and singing is paramount.
I usually tend to write darker music that is focused on more sinister plots, so the opportunity to collaborate with Charlotte and George (on anything!) again on something so joyful has been an absolute privilege. We had a lot of fun making this, and I think you can really sense that watching the opera!”
I can’t thank Nino enough for the phantasmagorical score he has created. We plan to make an audio recording of the music to share some of the Wonderland with you. We also hope that this tour will not be the end of “Down of Rabbit Hole” but only the beginning of a larger journey. If you would like to host a “Down the Rabbit Hole” performance or support the project in future iterations, please get in touch.
29 thoughts on “Down the Rabbit Hole – Thank you for the Music!”
Fascinating music creation process, Charlotte. Thanks for sharing it.
Thank you John for your continued support. I hope to create another couple of songs for the next step and the children asked us if we could produce another show and shared their ideas, although a couple were gruesome with heads rolling hehe. Several wanted to know what happened to the rabbit! So I left them wanting more.
Brilliant! We can take so much for granted when enjoying a great piece of music. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that darn few will ever realize! xx
I was preparing a timeline of the Down the Rabbit Hole creation today and I was shocked that it was back in January 2016 that I first put together an English song and speaking program for a competition. George and I were presented as finalists and George shared the winning piano prize in March that year. So seven years ago. George’s brother recorded the program for the Down The Rabbit Hole album that I released in 2017, it was very successful and was in the top of the classical music charts for several weeks. I realised that to make it into an opera it would need new songs and arias specifically written for the show. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to get the Arts Council funding to enabled me to hire ZOLLINO to write the unique music to suit the moods and movements I was trying to create throughout my libretto.
Best wishes always,
There is a lot of off-stage creative work that goes into the performance process. Thank you for continuing to work to bring music into the lives of children, Charlotte!
I personally did not have classical music in my life until I met a singing teacher from the Royal Northern College of Music at my High School called Jayne Wilson. She passed on her love of the music and the more challenging scores to learn and as I love a challenge the rest is history.
Excellent and interesting background story.
Thank you Timothy. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about our creative process. I know you like to compose and write your own music too so you have a good understanding.
Wonderful to know the background to this story and it sounds as if you had so much fun spinning ideas and stimulation off each other.
We did Gwen, it was quite stressful for Nino because I had a very fast turnaround and deadlines to meet. Fortunately my storyboards and the R&D videos sped up the process a little and he is very creative.
Very interesting process of how this music came to life, Charlotte. It sounds like Nino truly enjoyed the challenge of creating music and emotions of a lighter, happier nature. We do take for granted sometimes music just happens, forgetting there is much trial and error getting to the final, polished product.
The first time I heard the crying aria I thought it was too sad, even when I’m sad George said I sound happy, but after singing it through a couple of times I appreciated that it was much better than my more happy crying suggestions 🥲.
It must have been super-special to have this relationship with the contributor of such an important aspect of your project
On one of our previous collaborations, we were doing a video shoot in the forest near where I live performing one of his songs and without thinking we let off a smoke 💨 thingymebob to create some atmosphere, next minute the park rangers arrived, with me in full dark make-up, wild hair, looking like something out of a Kate Bush video. Hehe, at least we didn’t upset any park rangers this time!
A wonderful image 🙂
What a wonderful synergy!
Thank you Noelle. We all enjoy working together.
Thanks for that backstory, Charlotte. It is always interesting as to how a work of art was developed.
Thank you Don, you more than most know all the complex pieces of the jigsaw that make up a full show! I underestimated the amount of administration and operational management that I took on myself, I really should have tried to raise more funds to pay for someone else to take that on, I leaned on my parents a lot for logistics and operational help and felt quite guilty because they looked exhausted at the end of the project yesterday.
With such a successful work of art under your leadership, I am confident funds for future projects will come to you.
Amazing. As long as new talent emerges, humanity should be ok. 👏🏻 (In the long run! LOL)
Thank you 🙏 I hope so the news is dire right now in the UK, I can’t watch it.
I can imagine… I’m totally off the news where I live (in Mexico), but I still follow the “Frog” news… Drives me “bonkers”. 😉
I forget you are in Mexico not in France. My brother was in Mexico a few weeks ago he had a super time. I think he was on the west coast.
Was he now? He picked the best time of the year. No rainy season. Not too hot. Perfect. West coast would be Pacific, Acapulco? Ixtapa? Puerto Vallarta?
North coast would be Caribbeans, Cancún? Tulum?
I was privileged to watch your show Charlotte and enjoyed every minute. You and all your cast each brought their own parts to life and when the children interacted with you all, it was amazing to watch. Well done and congratulations to you all for a truly wonderful performance. 👏👏👏🤗🥰
I thank Nino, as well, for helping bring this production to life!
This is a great and important project/production.
Kudos to Nino, you and all!
How fascinating to know more about the process.