Buxton’s Albert Herring Brings Out the Humour and Softens Britten’s Harsh Chords

11/07/2017

Buxton Festival 2017 [2] – Britten. Albert Herring: Soloists, Buxton Festival Chorus, NCO Festival Orchestra / Justin Doyle (conductor), Buxton Festival 2017, Opera House, Buxton, 8.7.2017. (RJF)

2.Albert-Herring-Jeffrey-Lloyd-Roberts-John-Molloy-Mary-Hegarty-Yvonne-Howard-Nicholas-Merryweather.-Credit-Robert-Workman

Buxton Festival 2017’s Albert Herring (c) Robert Workman

Cast:

Mr Upfold – Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Mr Gedge – Nicholas Merryweather
Albert Herring – Bradley Smith
Superintendent Budd – John Molloy
Lady Billows – Yvonne Howard
Florence Pike – Lucy Schaufer
Mrs Herring – Heather Shipp
Miss Wordsworth – Mary Hegarty
Sid – Morgan Pearse
Nancy – Kathryn Rudge
Cis – Bonnie Callaghan
Harry – Nicholas Challier (sung from the pit by Charlotte Trepess)
Emmie – Sophie Gallagher
The Stranger – Simeon John-Wake

Production:

Director – Francis Matthews
Designer – Adrian Linford
Lighting: Designer – Mike Gunning
Choreographer – Simeon John-Wake

Britten’s chamber opera, it might even be called a comic opera, is based on a libretto by Eric Crozier who adapted a story by Maupassant about the goings on in a village when the May Queen has to be chosen. The formidable lady Billows, and her committee of local bigwigs, have deemed the proposed candidates as unsuitable and a stalemate ensued. The impasse is resolved by a break with tradition and the election of a May King if a suitable, chaste, young man can be found. The greengrocer’s son, Albert Herring is chosen.

If the Macbeth production staging was minimalist and dark (review click here), Adrian Linford’s was bright and simple with Mrs. Herring’s shop, in which Albert serves the customers, being simple and the door entrance mainly representational with the Act II change to the church being flown as a simple shape. It all worked a treat and designer Adrian Linford deserves special mention alongside director Francis Matthews.

Its seems invidious to pick out names in a large cast, but there were some outstanding interpretations and characterful singing, not always easily achieved in the context of Britten’s orchestration. Veterans such as Yvonne Howard and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts were formidable in their acting, and vocally as well. The same can be said of Lucy Schaufer as the formidable organizer of everything and everybody. As Albert, the sexually repressed virgin and immaculately well-behaved son of a dominant and over protective mother, who finds himself projected into fame, and the monetary prize, Bradley Smith’s interpretation is a masterly vocal and acted portrayal. How much of Britten’s convoluted psyche comes out in his writing for this role can only be conjectured. But one could only be admiring of Smith’s playing of the role as Albert vacillated and then went and enjoyed himself and grew up is masterful. Albert’s mother’s worry as to his whereabouts and well being got good playing and singing from Heather Shipp with her Act II solo coming to mind.

Sid and Nancy, the lover canoodlers who spike Albert’s drink, were exceptionally well matched with her vocal quality very much to the fore. Noteworthy also was John Molloy as something of a bumbling over officious Superintendent Budd and Mary Hegarty’s characterful portrayed spinster. The only thing that grated for me was the presence of an extraneous dancer who mimicked Albert and supposedly represented his dilemmas. Money wasted I suggest as well as a too-frequent distraction.

The opera can be seen again on Wednesday 12, Saturday 15 and Saturday 22 July at 7.15pm and on Wednesday 19 July at 2.30pm.

 Robert J Farr

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