Albert Herring, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, Covent Garden, October 2012Posted on 7 October 2012
This delightful comic opera by Benjamin Britten creates a deftly woven musical tapestry performed by thirteen instrumentalists and roughly the same number of singers. Eric Crozier based his libretto on a tale by Guy de Maupassant, transferring it to a Suffolk town and creating a glorious critique of small town mentality, pomposity and sexual repression.
The local bigwig Lady Billows presides over the choice of May Queen, but her busybody assistant Florence Pike finds a moral imperfection in every nominee, so they decide on a May King instead, with the flawlessly simple greengrocer Albert Herring fulfilling the role. But he too is human and the twenty-five sovereigns prize is partly spent on a night of dissolution, after which he can finally break away from his domineering mother. Britten never wrote a sequel, but we are left with the impression that Albert could very likely marry — possibly the pretty schoolteacher Miss Wordsworth — and make his escape permanent.
Apart from a disappointing Lady Billows the cast sang very well, and Mark Wilde made a suitably shy and uncertain Albert. Rosie Aldridge sang a strong Miss Pike, giving a wonderful delivery of that line, “Country virgins, if there be such, think too little and see too much”. With no surtitles her diction was admirably clear, a benchmark that one or two other cast members might better strive to achieve. As a lovely Miss Wordsworth in her pretty costume, Anna-Clare Monk was delightful, her rehearsing of the children’s singing most charmingly witty. Charles Johnston and Tim Dawkins provided fine vocal depth and stage presence as the vicar and superintendent, and Charles Rice and Martha Jones formed an excellent team as Albert’s friends Sid and Nancy.
The spare but effective set designs by Neil Irish, aided by Guy Hoare’s clever lighting allow subtle changes of scene, all within the same framework. Excellent costumes too, and very good direction by Christopher Rolls. The members of the Aurora Orchestra played extremely well under the baton of Michael Rosewell, and I particularly liked the solos on the French horn and the saxophone.
Albert Herring continues on tour at: Linbury Studio Theatre, 10th Oct – 7:45 pm; West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, 17th Oct, 19th Oct – 7:30 pm; Exeter Northcott, 25th, 27th Oct – 7:30 pm; Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, 30th Oct – 7:30 pm; Harrogate Theatre, 2nd Nov – 7:30 pm; Theatre Royal Bath, 5th Nov – 7:30 pm; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 10th Nov – 7:30 pm; Malvern Theatres, 13th Nov – 7:30 pm; Buxton Opera House, 16th Nov – 7:30 pm. For details click here.