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Britten Albert Herring - London's Herrings War 2010

Four of London's University Opera Companies and Music Academies are staging Albert Herring this year, and reviews will be added to this page.
First was The Royal Academy, followed in April with a remarkable production by Trinity College of Music Opera Company in April - see below.
And, if that will not be enough,during April Sky Arts 2 transmitted a superb modern take on Albert Herring from Paris Opera Comique, with a mainly British cast, one to hope for on a future DVD

Royal Academy Opera:
Royal Academy of Music Sinfonia
Nicholas Kok conductor
John Copley director
Tim Reed designer
Jake Wiltshire lighting designer

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.

The proceedings were inaugurated by Natalia Brzezinska as Loxford's great Lady's long suffering maid, but Rebecca Goulden never quite established the dominance her key part as Lady Billows demands [pictured also with Miss Wordsworth].

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].

The well indviduated men were all excellent, as were Miss Wordsworth and her pupils. Diction from some of the female singers left us wanting surtitles. The thirteen instrumentalists were impressively secure under the guidance of Nicholas Kok.

A fuller review of the second cast will follow.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Albert Herring will be given this year by three others of London's Higher Education Institutes: Trinity College of Music, Royal College of Music and Guildhall School of Music & Drama !

Britten - Albert Herring
Royal Academy Opera, 10 March 2010 2nd Cast


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
Albert Herring - Andrew Dickinson [pictured]

Sid – Marcus Farnsworth [pictured]

Nancy – Laura Kelly

Mrs Herring – Irina Gheorghiu

Emmie – Mary Bevan

Cis – Tess Bevan

Harry – Joseph Beesley

photographer Mark Whitehouse


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.

The cast I saw was ruled by the Lady Billows of Eimear Collins, dominating the stage and coping well with the extremes of vocal range that Britten accorded her.  Each of the characters was drawn with clarity and whilst diction from some of the female singers was occasionally wanting, surtitles would certainly have been superfluous.  The whole cast deserves honourable mention, and a good time was had by all.

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.

Serena Fenwick

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