In this Royal Academy Opera production of Albert Herring, director John Copley and the cast paradoxically capture the overarching mentality of a sleepy Suffolk market town by exploring to the full the individual characters whom inhabit it.
The opera’s action is cleverly brought forward a generation from the original setting of 1900 so that it carries a 1920s air of elegance and grace (courtesy of Prue Handley’s trim costumes), whilst retaining the central notion of a boy from yesteryear coming of age.
From amongst the strong cast, Thomas Hobbs in the title role stands out. His stunning tenor voice is consistently ethereal, although never so heavenly as to stop us from believing that this really is just a small town lad. He also proves a fine actor as his face carries a look of total bewilderment during the May Day festivities, which reminds us that it requires just as much skill to produce comic expressions as serious ones.
Rebecca Goulden is a splendid Lady Bellows, appearing friendly on the surface, but soon showing as she fiddles with her glasses that she is not a lady to be argued with. Emily Ward is a sweet voiced Miss Wordsworth, Natalia Brzezinska a suitably down-trodden Florence, whilst, as Mrs Herring, Emma Rothman’s lament at the (supposed) death of her son is deeply moving.
Jonathan McGovern and Leslie Davis excel as the roguish Sid and feisty Nancy; Charles Rice’s Vicar has a beautifully rounded tone to his voice, whilst Alexander Sprague and Thomas Faulkner apply well judged comic edges to the bespectacled Mayor and deep voiced Superintendent Budd.
Just as important as the individual performances are the ways in which the characters interact. Copley’s eye for detail is apparent throughout as appealing tableaux of figures form to convey the mood of a May Day festival, or of communal despair at the disappearance of Albert. The voices also blend effectively so that from the start we gain a keen sense of a disparate group of people joining as one voice to proclaim Albert Herring as their May King. Mary Bevan, Tess Bevan and Joseph Beesley also delight as the youngsters with their charming singing and mischievous ways.
Tim Reed’s sets are highly accomplished as Mrs Herring’s ‘old world’ shop is beautifully adorned with sumptuous sweet jars and boxes of soap. In the pit Nicholas Kok generously conducts the Royal Academy of Music Sinfonia to produce a sound that is striking and exuberant, yet well balanced and brilliantly paced.
The result is a joyous evening that provides numerous insights into the characters of Britten’s opera, and is to be recommended as much for its visual interest as its abundant musical merits.
Cast A (described above) perform on 8 and 12 March, and Cast B on 10 and 15 March.
- Sam Smith