Opera Reviews
15 August 2020
Untitled Document

Albert Herring proves to be fun

by Catriona Graham
Britten: Albert Herring
English Touring Opera
October 2012

Photo: Richard Hubert Smith The light relief in English Touring Opera's autumn season is provided by Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring, in which local Loxford worthy promises 25 as a prize to whichever young woman is suitably virtuous to be May Queen. No such paragon being found, the choice devolves on Albert, too cowed by his mother and too shy to be anything but virtuous.

However, Albert's friend Sid, with the connivance of girlfriend Nancy, laces his lemonade with rum. After the coronation festivities Albert, emboldened by the rum, goes off on the razzle. His absence sparks a search the following morning, followed by the conviction that he is dead. His dishevelled return brings forth recriminations, as his former adulators prove themselves only too willing to believe him capable of any enormity.

Director Christopher Rolls and designer Neil Irish use three walls of wooden astragals against a black backdrop to stand for Lady Billows' house, the Herring's greengrocers' shop and the hall in which the coronation feast takes place. The costumes, however are realistically early twentieth century.

Mark Wilde is, by turns, rebellious, petulant, long-suffering and gauche as Albert, a wonderful performance in a gem of a part. His more confident friend Sid is ably sung by Charles Rice with a mix of genial amusement and good-nature. However, he is aghast, transfixed, by the enthusiasm with which Albert responds to Nancy's kiss; friendship has its limits. Nancy herself is pert and charming.

Jennifer Rhys-Davies' Lady Billows has a good line in bombast and carrying all before her, well-matched by the pursed lips and disgust of Rosie Aldridge as her housekeeper and chief informant on immorality, Florence Pike.

Britten and his librettist Eric Crozier clearly enjoyed themselves creating the great and the good of Loxford and the cast respond. Mr Gedge the vicar (Charles Johnston) is as wet and unctuous as one could wish, Miss Wordsworth (Anna-Claire Monk) an Arts and Crafts-y village headmistress with a yen to renounce single blessedness - possibly in the direction of the vicar. (Police) Superintendent Budd is down-to-earth and slightly out of his social depth - Tim Dawkins captures the bluffness in voice and action. Richard Roberts is a bumptious mayor, whose speech at the festivities is a masterclass in tendentious flummery, thrown off as a patter-song.

Local boy Guy Fenton is a mischievous Harry, misbehaving with Cis (Emily-Jane Thomas) and Emmie (Erin Hughes). Both their rehearsal and performance of Miss Wordsworth's coronation ode is hilariously cacophonous.

Albert's mother Clarissa Meek conveys both the unpleasantly bullying character and the deep and genuine grief of a mother who has lost her son. In the threnody - Death awaits us one and all - her anguished face and expressionless voice almost make us forgive how she has treated Albert.

With the high standard of singing both individually and ensemble and the Aurora Orchestra conducted by Michael Rosewell, this is an enjoyable and entertaining performance of one of the few twentieth century operas which could really be described as 'fun'.

Text © Catriona Graham
Photo Richard Hubert Smith
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