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A Peach of a Production

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
02/25/2012 -  & 3, 8, 11, 14, 17 March 2012
Benjamin Britten: Albert Herring
Alek Shrader (Albert Herring), Janis Kelly*/Christine Brewer (Lady Billows), Daniela Mack (Nancy), Liam Bonner (Sid), Ronnita Nicole Miller (Florence Pike), Stacey Tappan (Miss Wordsworth), Jonathan Michie (Mr. Gedge), Robert McPherson (Mr. Upfold), Richard Bernstein (Superintendent Budd), Jane Bunnell (Mrs. Herring), Erin Sanzero (Emmie), Jamie-Rose Guarrine (Cis), Caleb Glickman (Harry)
Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, Roberto Cani (Concertmaster), James Conlon (Conductor)
Paul Curran (Director), Kevin Knight (Scenic and Costume Designer), Rick Fisher (Lighting Designer)

(© Robert Millard)

Author/illustrator Michael Foreman is well aware of Benjamin Britten. The Suffolk native Britten visited Foreman’s nearby Pakefield school early on in search of young boys to fill the shoes of Noah in the composer’s 1958 Chester miracle play Noyes Fludde. Although never selected, Foreman regarded Benjamin Britten as “ the only person of real celebrity to have emerged from darkest Lowestoft” (The Guardian 02/04/04). Pummeled by the Luftwaffe’s bombings in World War II (Britten refused to fight), this socially depraved town gradually dwindled in the 1960s by seeing a decline in the herring industry and the disappearance of its railway station. Witnessing these surroundings, combined with pacifist convictions and living with partner, Peter Pears, would undoubtedly influence a slant on music and the choice of subjects when writing operas.

Benjamin Britten’s works are deep and resolute while delving headfirst into controversial social issues. His struggle with sexual identity is not unlike other composers’ experiences and stigmas, but the discerning Britten brought these topics to the surface for the general public to contemplate, understand and respect in an innocuous manner especially in Albert Herring. Anyone who’s walked down a similar path to that of Britten’s life can relate.

An avid fan of the Englishman’s music, James Conlon included The Turn of the Screw (Read here) in LA Opera’s 2011 season followed by this year’s Albert Herring ahead of the centenary celebration of the composer’s birth in 2013. Despite not seeing Britten on the main stage next year, we’re fortunate enough to have this colorful popup set originally designed and created for Santa Fe Opera’s production in 2010.

(© Robert Millard)

Closely based on Guy de Maupassant’s novella Le Rosier de Madame Husson (1888), Eric Crozier paved the way textually for Benjamin Britten to formulate fitting, quirky and descriptive music. Alek Shrader’s masterful portrayal of Albert Herring as the pusillanimous incarcerated greens grocer is quashed by a domineering mother (Jane Bunnell’s Mrs. Herring) only to be unhinged when he’s crowned as May King in a mocking manner by a committee of superficially “proper” citizens of Loxford. All cast members are exceptional including the matriarch (Janis Kelly’s Lady Billows), the housekeeper (Ronnita Nicole Miller’s Florence Pike), the teacher (Stacey Tappan’s Miss Wordsworth), the vicar (Jonathan Michie’s Mr. Gedge), the mayor (Robert McPherson’s Mr. Upfold) and policeman (Richard Bernstein’s Superintendent Budd.) At times selected voices are a bit soft and overshadowed by the orchestra.

(© Robert Millard)

The butcher’s assistant Sid (Liam Bonner) taints Albert’s lemonade with rum during the coronation, bringing about a catalyst for change in Albert’s “nice boy” image. His debauched actions are finally executed after seeing and hearing the continual sexual proclivities running between the voluptuous Nancy (Daniela Mack) and her masculine beau, Sid.

(© Robert Millard)

Miss Wordworth’s students are an absolute kick demonstrating tremendous energy and enthusiasm while their singing carries with it astonishing volume and richness. Especially entertaining is Erin Sanzero as Emmie who always jumps up to hit the door bell whenever leaving Albert’s store. Rounding out the mischievous three are Jamie-Rose Guarrine as Cis and the more timid Caleb Glickman as Harry. The vicarage garden scene is fantastic.

Albert Herring is a sardonic take on the mores of Victorian England which splendidly and blatantly exemplifies prevailing hypocrisies, but the message extends beyond village boundaries. Benjamin Britten hit it right on the head….think about his personal journey in context of Albert Herring, and one will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of his intentions. Paul Curran’s production is terrific, particularly citing clever blocking and fluid set changes melding the acts together during interludes. Lighting by Rick Fisher is rich; James Conlon’s 13 member virtuoso orchestra is, once again, first rate!

Christie Grimstad



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