Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

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):