Pacific Opera Victoria
Albert Herring Music by Benjamin Britten, Libretto by Eric Crozier

Dates and Venue 7, 9, 15 February 2013, 8pm (matinée 17 February at 2:30pm) | Royal Theatre, 1815 Blanshard Street, Victoria

Albert Herring Lawence Wiliford Sid Phillip Addis Nancy Stephanie Marshall Mrs. Herring Rebecca Hass Lady Billows Sally Dibblee Miss Pike Susan Platts Miss Wordsdworth Charlotte Corwin Vicar Gedge Peter McGillivray Mayor Upfold Michael Colvin Superintendent Budd Giles Tomkins Emmie Emlyn Sheeley Cis Cassandra Lemoine Harry Ajay Parikh-Friese

Conductor Leslie Dala Director Glynis Leyshon Chorus Master Giuseppe Pietraroia Set and Costume Patrick Clark Lighting design Michael Walton Choreographer Jacques Lemay Stage manager Sarah Robb

Sung in English with English surtitles

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Albert Herring is set in the fictional village of Loxford in Suffolk but it might equally well be in Midsomer County or St. Mary Mead, populated as it is by characters who could be Miss Marple’s acquaintance: the autocratic Lady Billows and her put-upon housekeeper, Florence Pike, the ineffectual vicar, Mr. Gedge and the equally ineffectual school-mistress, Miss Wordsworth, the bumbling policeman Budd and the constantly-campaigning, self-important Mayor Upfold. Here though, it is the walk-on parts, the butcher’s boy, Sid, with his girl-friend, Nancy and the greengrocer’s much-bullied assistant, Albert Herring, who are the principals.

Glynis Leyshon has cleverly updated the action to the 1950’s, allowing crinolined dresses and over-blown roses from the costume department and a shop selling Swan Vestas and Colman’s mustard from the set design to take half the audience back to their youth. Patrick Clark’s designs are a delight, highlighted by excellent lighting design (Michael Walton). Leyshon’s direction never lets the comedy go over the top or become nasty but she employs a lightness of touch matching the text and the music which are so full of wit and humour.

The plot revolves around finding a Queen of the May for the village celebrations. The selection committee, Lady Billows, the vicar, the mayor, Budd and Miss Wordsworth, cannot find a suitably untarnished candidate. Every girl in the village and the countryside around seems to have been found in compromising circumstances. At last, with surprising inspiration Budd suggests having a King of the May and proposes Albert Herring who  has been too shy, too dim and too much under his mother’s thumb to even dream of anything unvirtuous. Or so they think. Upset by teasing from the village children and egged on by a Sid, Albert bitterly wonders what is the reward of virtue? The humiliation of being the May King got up in a white suit is the answer but at the May Day celebration, Sid spikes Albert’s lemonade with dire consequences.

Sally Dibblee (Lady Billows) was in fine form and fine voice, tackling Britten’s musical jokes with Handelian enthusiasm. Both Susan Platts (Miss Pike) and Charlotte Corwin (Miss Wentworth) are accomplished comic actresses. They played up the comedy perfectly without tipping into caricature. Indeed Susan Platts’ Scene 1 solo “One lifetime, one brain, one pair of hands” was so expressive and full of longing it was hard to dislike Florence Pike as much as one. Peter McGillivray was both mellifluous and unctuous, as the vicar, Michael Colvin delivered a snappy patter song and there was excellent work from Giles Tomkins’awkward Superintendent Budd. Rebecca Hass (Mrs. Herring) cut a fine line between the bullying, self-pitying widow and the genuinely grieving mother.

Sid (Phillip Addis) and Nancy (Stephanie Marshal) are a breath of fresh air against the suffocating world of their elders. Addis’s Sid is an irrepressible, charming rogue, brimming with life, his youthful baritone perfectly matching the everyday language of Crozier’s text and Britten’s lyrical music. Marshall’s Nancy was memorable: a beautiful, creamy voice and a quiet, strong stage presence underpinning truthful and direct emotion.

By turns, lyrical, longing, angry and confused, Lawrence Wiliford was supremely accomplished as Albert Herring. A luscious tenor voice and a gentle but not stupid persona kept him the focus of attention.

The three young music students who played the children deserve prizes for their well-delivered work.

The orchestra sparkled under Leslie Dala's vivid command, delivering up Britten's quotes from Purcell, Handel, Wagner and others like jewels and clearly demonstrating what an original and interesting composer Britten was.  A comic opera in English requires excellent diction and to woman it was delivered. Very few in the audience must have needed surtitles.  

Albert Herring is a treasure of English opera. Pacific Opera Victoria's production is a treasure of a show.

© 2013 Elizabeth Paterson