July 23, 2011
Reviewer: Martin Ball
OPERA: Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten. Victorian Opera, Playhouse, Arts Centre, until July 29.
VICTORIAN Opera continues its engagement with Benjamin Britten with a mostly charming production of his 1947 comic opera Albert Herring.
In an English country village, the townsfolk struggle to find a girl chaste enough to be May Queen, so instead elect the greengrocer’s son Albert. But Albert gets drunk on his prizemoney, then thumbs his nose at the establishment to explore his new-found independence.
The first half parodies English village life, caught somewhere between Midsomer Murders and The Vicar of Dibley. But the second half develops a more powerful sense of satire, celebrating the rights of individual expression.
This production shows great potential, but seems a little undercooked. The inventive set by Adam Gardnir creates a beautiful tableau in the finale, but for the rest leaves the stage a spartan vacuum. Likewise Talya Masel’s direction includes moments of deft humour, but also dead spots.
Crucially, several lead singers struggle to define their characters. Jacob Caine, although vocally sound, does little with the central role of Albert, and Julian Wilson seems miscast as the butcher Sid. Emily Bauer-Jones, however, sings with clarity and definition as Nancy, and Ian Cousins is equally fine as Mr Gedge. Suzanne Johnston is so good as Mrs Herring that she exposes the shortcoming of the rest. Orchestra Victoria under Tom Woods does justice to Britten’s wonderful score, with some great colour and finesse.