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Britten - Albert Herring

Lady Billows – Joanna Weeks
Florence Pike – Cara Curran
Miss Wordsworth – Eleanor Briggs
Mr Gedge – Robert Trainer
Mr Upfold – Alex Mai
Superintendent Budd – Matthew Kellett
Sid – Alex Haigh
Albert Herring – Peter Kirk
Nancy – Emma Watkinson
Mrs Herring – Catherine Carter
Emmie – Hannah O’Reilly
Cis – Marianne Wright
Harriet – Máiréad Carlin

Trinity College of Music Opera Company
Director Bill Bankes-Jones
Musical Director Steuart Bedford
Designer Ellan Parry

Blackheath Great Hall 7.30pm, 21 Apr 2010

A shoal of Herrings this year! I have known and loved this masterpiece since its very earliest performances and recordings, and have seen it repeatedly here and abroad since my son was Harry in the '60s at the Guildhall School, under Vilem Tausky.

The essence of Bill Bankes-Jones' concept was to make fullest use of Blackheath's Great Hall; he had produced TCM's Poulenc Carmelites in June 2007, creating an in-the-roud church-like setting there, and this year we have the whole village of Loxford in it !

Most successful was the first Act of Albert Herring, with the audience on stage behind the curtain, which opened to stun us with Ellan Parry's whole village of Loxford.

From our vantage point the panorama of village life was spread below us and the acoustics for voices and Steuart Bedford's chamber orchestra was perfect; wonderful that student ensembles can now take these once-challenging scores in their stride. The only interval was between Acts One and Two. For the presentation party there was no marquee and we were down in the body of the hall as part of the general village audience. From there the acoustics were noticeably worse, and after the ceremony, not so well staged as in several other performances, we had to quickly claim seats back on stage.

The cast was as good as any of the others remembered, their diction unsurpassed. All the roles were taken with assurance and high skills, putting Trinity's Opera Co right up with the competition.

Slender Peter Kirk managed brilliantly Albert's decision (on the toss of a coin) to break out from his stultifying life. He was ideally cast as the eponymous hero and realised the Brittenesque outsider to perfection in his body language and singing, both aspects of the role equalled this year only by the very different burly, clumsy Thomas Hobbs at the Royal Academy of Music.

Regrettably there was no interval to take us through the night; a 7 o'clock start and the prescribed two intervals (as in other productions) would have served Britten & Crozier better.

The hunt for Albert, feared dead, took place mostly behind the greengrocer's shop, rather out of our sight. But following his dishevelled reappearance, Albert joined us up on the stage for his clinching monologue, signalling that he had finally broken free of crushing mother-love to assert his independence and, hopefully, the beginning of a real adulthood.

That ending made a brilliant conclusion to an original realisation of this great not-only-comic opera, predictably brilliant from Bill Bankes-Jones [R], whose productions at Bridewell Theatre and Riverside Studios for Tête à Tête we have so often admired over the years.

So far in 2010 we have enjoyed the immaculate traditional version at the Royal Academy of Music and the brilliantly subversive updated Paris Opera Comique production* televised by Sky Arts 2, surely soon to reappear on DVD?

Still to come in London, Guildhall School 50 years on, and The Royal College of Music !

Peter Grahame Woolf

May Day Committee from L-R Matthew Kellett as Superintendent Budd, Robert Trainer as Mr Gedge, Joanna Weeks as Lady Billows,
Cara Curran as Florence Pike, Alex Mai as Mr Upfold, Eleanor Briggs as Miss Wordsworth: Production photos © Tas Kyprianou

*q.v. La Scena Musicale at Opera Comique Paris - - Did you ever wish that the evening you are witnessing could be recorded? It was that kind of a night - - you know that it will not likely ever be as well done - - Laurence Equilbey's reading of the score of this exceptional ensemble opera was warm and exuberant and could have not been more musically focused.

See Other Herrings reviewed by Musical Pointers