A UBC Opera production. At the Old Auditorium on June 23. Continues to June 26.
Benjamin Britten’s East Suffolk–village comic opera Albert Herring is peculiarly English and a favourite with student singers. It finds lightness in a composer not known for it.
Young singers always mount it around now because this is about the time of year the title character is crowned king, not queen, of the May.
Dispensing with the customary Queen of the May is the decision of the village prudes, who’ve decreed that not enough pure young women exist anymore to deserve the title. So to teach people a lesson, they choose a slow-witted male shop clerk instead. As it turns out, he’s at least as “bad” as the girls, if not worse.
Britten could tend toward the prim side when dealing with the subject of youth, but not here. Albert Herring, named after the store clerk who decides to bust loose from his mother’s apron strings once and for all, is remarkably funny and it made the right people mad when it debuted in 1947, being not for provincials but about them.
This production, directed by Nancy Hermiston at UBC’s Old Auditorium, is a lot of fun and right on top of the music, which parodies everything from Tristan und Isolde’s love-potion music when Albert drinks rum-laced lemonade to a theme from Lucrezia Borgia. There are fugues and canons galore, and the opera ends with a stellar—and for once serious—nine-part threnody, with each voice adding a personal thought on the end of life to the ravishing repeated melody “In the midst of life is death” over a pedal B-flat.
The production may be the most musically accomplished one I’ve heard, and every principal in the large cast deserves mention: Aaron Durand, Evanna Chiew, Margo LeVae’s organ-voice-of-England-like Lady Billows, Courtney Bridge, Anne-Marie Macintosh, Jordan Collalto, Alan Macdonald, Saygin Ozgu, Lauren Solomon’s splendid Mrs. Herring, and Joseph Bulman’s charming and vocally very fine Albert.
The circa-1900 costuming by Ines Ortner is just right, Marshall McMahen’s set reflects English rural architecture, and Leslie Dala does a good job conducting the small student orchestra.
There’s something very naughty in Britten’s final gesture, when Albert takes off his flattened crown of orange blossoms and flips it into the audience. It’s like he’s flipping the audience the bird.