Alice Through the Looking-Glass


A “Family Opera” for small orchestra and singers.

Text and music by William Osborne, based on the book of Lewis Carroll




Deutsche Fassung 


Table of Contents


1. General Description

2. A video score and orchestral simulation without the vocal parts.

3. Program Notes



1. General Description


A children’s opera for chamber orchestra and singers based on Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking-Glass. (55 minutes.) 


Instrumentation: 2 fl., 2 ob., 1 cl., 2 bsn., 1 trpt., 2 horns, strings, 1 perc., 1 harp.

(Woodwind doublings: Piccolo, English horn, E-b clarinet, B-b Bass Clarinet, Contrabassoon)



(If needed, some of the parts can be sung by the same singers playing different roles.)


Alice, soprano

Lewis Carroll, baritone 

White King, tenor

White Queen, soprano

Humpty-Dumpty, baritone

Tiger-Lily, alto

Rose, soprano,

Two Daisys, sopranos

Tweedledee, baritone

Tweedledum, baritone

Sheep, tenor

Unicorn, tenor

White Knight, baritone

Royal attendant, tenor



2. A video score and orchestral simulation.



This is an orchestral simulation without the solo voices. A piano outlines the vocal parts when they are not doubled by an orchestra instrument. By following the score you can read the words the characters sing.  The work is in ten chapters:

I. Prelude: 0:00
II. Looking-Glass House: 2:42
III. The Garden of Live Flowers: 12:23
IV. Tweedledee and Tweedledum: 15:36
V. Wool and Water: 18:49
VI. Humpty-Dumpty: 23:40
VII. The Lion and the Unicorn: 30:43
VIII. The White Knight: 34:11
IX. Queen Alice: 38:46
X. Which Dreamed It?: 42:03



A piano score is also available. 


3. Program Notes


The opera begins with Lewis Carroll singing the poem that opens his book Alice Through the Looking-Glass.  The verses lovingly commemorate the day he first extemporized the story for Alice as they drifted down the Thames in a rowboat--July 4, 1862.  We go to Alice's house, where she discovers that she can step through a mirror into the "Looking-Glass World"--a land laid out like a huge chess board inhabited with living chess pieces and amusing characters from English fairy-tales.  Like a pawn in a chess game, Alice journeys across the board meeting these fantastic beings, and eventually becomes a Queen.  A banquet is held in her honor, but it turns nightmarish, and she awakens to discover that her "Looking-Glass World" was all just a dream. Lewis reappears, and he and Alice sing the poem that closes the book, again recalling the "golden afternoon" on the Thames when he first told her the story. 


The beauty of Lewis Carroll's books is that they appeal to both children and adults, and I wrote this opera in that spirit. His work embodies a child's world of fantasy and make-believe, but one can also find wry commentary on the logical absurdities of language, the violent imagery of fairy-tales, and the foibles of his Oxford colleagues. I hope the work will appeal to whole families.  


As Alice moves across the checkerboard land, each new square brings a new character or set of characters into her life. Each character is centered around a specific musical instrument according to the table below.  This deliniates the characters and helps more observant children learn about the instruments of the orchestra:


The White King


The White Queen


The Tiger Lily   

English Horn

The Rose

E-flat Clarinet




Bass Clarinet

The Sheep




The Unicorn

Enlish Horn

The White Knight



Lewis Carroll's keen sense of the ephemerality of life fills his books with scenes of transformation that children love. In this ever-flowing universe the White Queen turns into a sheep, the notations in the White King's memorandum book transform into the drama of the Jabberwocky, scented rushes teasingly vanish into thin air, and unicorns float in and out of sight.  This ephemerality is most poignant when the White Knight sadly watches his dear Alice run down a hill with tearless and eager eyes to become a Queen. 


This could be a world of existential horror, but Lewis Carroll meets it with a wry and sardonic humor tempered by a deep sense of kindness and generosity.  It is his compassion for childhood that gives the books their most beautiful character and meaning. He reveals the "eternal child" in all of us. As the opera closes, Lewis Carroll simply asks, "Life, what is it but a dream?"