Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alek Shrader as Albert Herring, with Daniela Mack as Nancy and Liam Bonner as Sid [Photo by Robert Millard for LA Opera]
22 Mar 2012

Albert Herring, LA

The Los Angeles Opera, anticipating Benjamin Britten’s centennial gave the composer, as well as its patrons, an early birthday present of performances of his charming comic opera, Albert Herring.

Benjamin Britten: Albert Herring

Lady Billows: Janis Kelly/Christine Brewer; Florence Pike: Ronnita Nicole Miller; Miss Wordsworth, head teacher: Stacey Tappan; Mr. Gedge, the Vicar:Jonathan Michie; Mr. Upfold, the Mayor: Robert McPherson; Police Superintendent Budd: Richard Bernstein; Emmie, Village Child: Erin Sanzero; Cis, Village Child: Jamie-Rose Guarrine; Harry, Village Child: Caleb Glickman; Sid, a butcher’s assistant: Liam Bonner; Albert Herring: Alek Shrader; Nancy, from the Bakery: Daniela Mack; Mrs. Herring, Albert’s Mother: Jane Funnel. Conductor: James Conlon. Director: Paul Curran. Scenic and Costume Designer: Kevin Knight. Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher.

Above: Alek Shrader as Albert Herring, with Daniela Mack as Nancy and Liam Bonner as Sid

Photos by Robert Millard for LA Opera

 

The British composer was born on November 22nd 1913 — St. Cecelia’s day, in the seaside town of Lowestoft. Before we go any further, I think you ought to know that Lowestoft’s chief export was herring.

alh4177.gifJanis Kelly as Lady Billows

Though Britten is generally known to the operatic public for somber operatic works — the tragedies Peter Grimes and Billy Budd — he also had a lively, if far less frequently displayed musical sense of humor. In 1941,while living in the United States, he wrote the comical Paul Bunyon to a libretto by W.S. Auden. He returned to England in 1942, where Albert Herring premiered at Glyndebourne in 1947. Britten’s most concentrated piece of musical hilarity can be found in his 1960 A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Its Pyramus and Thisbe scene is a bright and brilliant take of 19th century Italian opera.

Albert Herring is based on a story called Le Rosier de Mme. Husson by French author Guy de Maupassant. The tale was suggested to Britten by librettist, Eric Crozier, then a member of Britten’s coterie. The story is set in Gisor, a French town in Normandy, socially structured much like towns of England’s Suffolk County, assuring that the transfer of locale was easily worked out. Its title can be loosely translated as Mme. Husson’s Rose King.

The essence of the French story’s plot and that of the opera are essentially the same. Both describe the eternal societal urge of small town’s upper crust to make its lower crust behave better. Though their endings and styles are far different — Crozier insisted the libretto have some kind of rhyming scheme — both plans for betterment go awry.

Lady Billows, the formidable doyenne of the fictitious British town of Loxford, is distressed by the number of illegitimate births, and decides to find, crown and reward a virtuous May Queen. When the girls suggested by the school teacher, the mayor, the police superintendent and the vicar are found wanting by Lady Billows’ equally formidable housekeeper, Florence Pike, the group decides to crown a May King. He is Albert Herring, a virginal boy who works in his widowed mother’s greengrocer’s shop. Poor, protesting Albert is decked out for the celebration in a white-as-a-swan suit and white hat decorated with orange blossoms. Sitting nearby, his mother glows with pride and waits impatiently to get the award money in her hands. But Albert’s friend Sid and Sid’s girl Nancy, hoping to loosen him up, spike his lemonade with rum. No sooner are the celebrations over when Albert disappears.

alh5161.gifLiam Bonner as Sid; Daniela Mack as Nancy

There is a huge search for the boy. A clue is found – a filthy orange blossom wreath. It is brought to the greengrocer’s home, laid to rest in the center of the table, and mourned by all in a masterful piece of music, an elegiac threnody, as if it were the boy himself. Albert’s sudden appearance in his sullied white suit seems almost unwelcome, but returns us to comedy as each person in turn interrogates him. His vice-laden adventures shock everyone but Sid and Nancy. And in conclusion, after everyone leaves, he tells his mother he’s keeping his money, and (horrors!) to mind her own business.

The Los Angeles Opera production, directed by Paul Curran was created for Santa Fe Opera, whose theater is open to the setting sun and other elements of nature. Differences in the set and lighting required for the enclosed Los Angeles theater, enhanced and intensified elements of the production. Subtle changes in the direction added to the comedy. Considering that Britten wrote the work as a chamber opera, it played well in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Under James Conlon’s direction, the thirteen very individualistic characters on the stage, and the thirteen very precise musicians in the pit evoked the humor and pathos of Albert’s story. Maestro Conlon’s appreciation of the opera — he considers it one of the five great comic operas in the repertory — clarified elements of Britten’s scoring of the work; for example, the differences between the pompous music of the Lady Billows and town’s elite, and the rhythms of Albert and its shop keepers. Conlon also made sure, in word during his pre-performance talk, and in music when on the podium, that his audience heard Britten’s musical jest: the love potion theme from Tristan and Isolde as the rum was poured into Albert’s glass. Why not? This is the drink that will change his life forever.

alh5244.gifRichard Bernstein as Superintendent Budd; Alek Shrader as Albert Herring; Janis Kelly as Lady Billows; Jonathan Michie as Mr. Gedge, the Vicar; Robert McPherson as Mr. Upfold, the Mayor; Ronnita Nicole Miller as Florence Pike; Stacey Tappan as Miss Wordsworth

Every member of the cast with the exception of Stacey Tappan, Richard Bernstein and Caleb Glickman was making an LA opera debut in his production. Baritone Jonathan Michie, properly fussy as the Vicar, and lyric tenor Alek Shrader, charming as Albert, had appeared in their roles in Santa Fe. Shrader, who has been singing in Europe recently, will debut at the Met later this year. Janis Kelly’s interpretation of the officious Lady Billows left nothing to be desired vocally. She did however lack avoirdupois. One imagines her ladyship to be more generously proportioned. Christine Brewer, a more ample soprano and veteran of the Santa Fe production, sang the last two performances. Mezzo Ronnita Nicole Miller, a singer I have enjoyed in the past, played Florence Pike with great comic timing. Liam Bonner and Daniela Mack as Sid and Nancy, were charmingly carefree lovers, and Jane Bunnell struck the proper notes musically as well as theatrically, as the properly proud and distressed mother who knows a quid when she sees one.

Rarely does one wonder what will happen to the characters in an opera after the final curtain. Most often, all the ones we care about are dead. At the conclusion of Albert Herring, however, every Loxford resident we’ve met will go on living. One can’t help wondering about Albert’s future in the town. Mme Husson’s May King became the sobriquet for the Gisor’s town drunk.

Estelle Gilson

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):