Opera Vivente offers appealing production of Britten's 'Albert Herring'
Opera Vivente is closing its season this week with a nimble, engaging production of Benjamin Britten's comic gem, Albert Herring, one of the strongest productions I've seen from the company.
For those who know Britten only by his high-drama masterpieces, such as Peter Grimes and Billy Budd, the lighthearted, yet pointed, Albert Herring is well worth knowing. The plot is deceptively simple: In the spring of 1900, efforts by the upstanding social rulers of an English town to find a May Queen are stymied by the less-than-pure state of the female candidates. Attention turns to a meek, mother-dominated shopkeeper, who reluctantly accepts the honor of being named the first May King. But things go awry when Albert's buddies decide he needs to spread his wings a bit.
Eric Crozier's witty, satirical libretto is matched with some of Britten's cleverest music, where practically every melodic fragment, harmonic shift and instrumental color has something significant to say.
The opening night performance Friday in the hall of Emmanuel Episcopal Church did have a serious flaw ...
Led with a secure grasp by JoAnn Kulesza, the orchestra coped quite decently on Friday with the considerable challenges of the score; the winds and brass were especially telling in the Act 2 Interlude. The weight of the orchestral sound no doubt sometimes cut into the ability of the cast to project words (every Vivente outing loses something acoustically from the absence of a pit), but I still think this was mostly just another example of the bad habit many American singers have of failing to enunciate their own language cleanly.
Adam Caughey, in the title role, was one of the more successful in the articulation department. The tenor's voice proved fairly strong and he put a good deal of nuance in his phrasing; his assured acting caught Albert's endearingly naive quality. Christopher Herbert, as Albert's buddy Sid, took top marks for clarity of text. The baritone also produced a consistently warm sound, phrased colorfully and used his natural theatrical skills to great advantage.
Jennifer Root bellowed powerfully in a knowing portrayal of the pretentious Lady Billows, but a tonal harshness took a toll. Jessica Renfro (Nancy), Leah Inger (Miss Wordsworth), Dina Martire (Florence Pike), Will Heim (Vicar), James Bailey (Mayor), Jennifer Blades (Mrs. Herring) and Jeffrey Tarr (Police Superintendent) sang dynamically, if not always with tonal smoothness, and were fully into their characters. The roles of the three children were filled spiritedly by Austin Nikirk, Veronica Page and Collin Power.
Remaining performances are Thursday and Saturday.
Next season, Opera Vivente plans productions of Mozart's The Magic Flute and Rossini's Cinderella, as well as Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande, which the company tackled a few seasons ago using substantially reduced orchestration.
PHOTO BY CORY WEAVER FOR OPERA VIVENTE