Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Albert Herring

(photo by David Cooper)
A Birthday Aptly Celebrated
by Jay Catterson

The Vancouver Opera, in collaboration with Pacific Opera Victoria, presents Benjamin Britten's 1947 operatic parody of English village life, 'Albert Herring'. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the story begins with the May Queen Committee of the town of Loxford, led by the autocratic Lady Billows (Sally Dibblee), desperately seeking out a pious girl (read: virgin) to be Queen of the May. When their search seems rather hopeless, Police Superintendent Budd (Giles Tomkins) suggests that they choose a King of the May instead; in this case, Albert Herring (Lawrence Wiliford), the awkward, sheltered boy who spends most of his time working at his mother's greengrocery. The committee unanimously chooses Herring to be their first ever King of the May, and Lady Billows revels in the chance to use Herring's example to teach the Loxford girls a lesson. Before Herring's coronation ceremony, Alfred's best friend Sid (Aaron Durand), with the help of his girlfriend Nancy (Sylvia Szadovszki), decide to spike Albert's lemonade with rum to help loosen him up a bit. This leads to Herring fleeing the town on a night of debauchery, whilst the whole town deals with the aftermath during the search for his whereabouts. 

This production features a delightful cast directed by Glynis Leyshon, with a tight chamber orchestra led by conductor Leslie Dala. Patrick Clark's scenic design was vibrant with its springtime English country garden colour scheme; his greengrocery set piece, in particular was quite impressive, and his lavish costume design evoked the time period effectively. Armed with comedic wit and powerful vocals, Soprano Sally Dibblee was impeccably cast as the pompous Lady Billows while Lofty tenor Lawrence Wiliford delivered a humorously awkward performance as the title character, Alfred Herring. Other standouts of this production include the outstanding vocals of tenor Michael Colvin as Mr. Upfold, and the sweet-voiced baritone Aaron Durand as Sid.

Now is this production worthy of a trip to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre? Although this opera lacks sweeping, grandiose moments like those from Verdi and Puccini, the score is quite complex, and fans of musical structure will delight in its intricacies. This production is a great one to see for seasoned opera goers, plus the light-hearted subject matter is an easy one to digest for those new to opera. But don't expect to come out of the theatre humming any of the arias. Judging from the lukewarm response from the audience at the opening night performance, Britten may not be everyone's cup of tea; however, it was definitely lovely to see Vancouver Opera tackle an English piece from the 20th century, and it serves as a fitting tribute to Britten's 100th birthday. For opera aficionados, this 'Albert Herring' is definitely worth watching. 

Albert Herring runs Nov. 30 - Dec. 8

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