Four of London's University Opera Companies and Music Academies are staging Albert Herring this year, and reviews will be added to this page.
Royal Academy Opera:
Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London 8 March 2010.
Staged by the veteran opera director John Copley in Tim Reed's traditional settings, complete with Swan Vestas to light the gas mantle, and placed at a time when English policemen still had to be 5 ft 10 ins tall, Royal Academy Opera's Albert Herring offers rich rewards to disillusioned older operagoers and huge enjoyment to everyone else.
Thomas Hobbs made a memorable large, ungainly Albert, sung as well as any of his prestigious predecessors in the role, his body language and facial expressions alive to every moment of his humiliation and resurrection with new found determination to be his own man. Sid & Nancy made a delightful couple of conspirators and supportors [R].
A fuller review of the second cast will follow.
Lady Billows – Eimear Collins
Florence Pike – Kate Symonds-Joy
Miss Wordsworth – Runette Botha
Mr Gedge- Oliver Dunn
Mr Upfold - Eliot Alderman
Supt Budd – Frederick Long
Sid – Marcus Farnsworth [pictured]
Nancy – Laura Kelly
Mrs Herring – Irina Gheorghiu
Emmie – Mary Bevan
Cis – Tess Bevan
Harry – Joseph Beesley
Suffolk born, Suffolk bred, Strong in the arm, Weak in the head! Those few lines used to be repeated with pride by every Suffolk child – we thought their logic was as clear as the country air we breathed and Britten would have known and understood them well.
In composing Albert Herring he created vivid proof of life in an “Akenfield” frozen forever in the middle years of the 20th century. This production was a complete joy from the moment the curtains parted.
Older opera-goers no doubt found much to identify with in the meticulous detail of Tim Reed's settings, but it was the direction that stole the show, with Copley’s unerring ability to add the perfect finishing touches. Albert nonchalantly chewing an apple whilst the village elders demand details of his outrageous fall from grace, the twitching disapproval of lady's maid Florence Pike, the blustering self-importance of the Mayor constantly fingering his chain of office, and the boisterous misbehaviour of the children.
In the title role, Andrew Dickinson was nothing short of superb (and I have heard it reported that Thomas Hobbs was equally good !). I enjoyed hugely Eliot Alderman’s Upfold, and the children were outstanding. Mary Bevan, recent winner of the valuable Richard Lewis Award, was "luxury casting" as Emmie.
Lady Billows – Joanna Weeks
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.
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.
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,
*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