in the village of Loxford, as the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations and the election of the May Queen. But there’s not a virtuous maid to be found. Shock, horror! Too many have erred ( being seen ‘out after dusk’, or ‘wearing short skirts’ ). So a King of the May is preferred, the virtuous (and virginal) Albert Herring.
Benjamin Britten’s satirical comic opera ‘Albert Herring’ finds its latest incarnation as St Paul’s Opera Summer opera festival which opened last night at St Paul’s Church, Clapham. It was great fun.
The church and grounds were pretty in pink, reflecting the opera staging and design ( by Petya Tsankova, the graphic designer who also designs the covers for my books ). It was a gorgeous summer’s evening and the grounds were full with opera-going picnickers.
We filed inside, carrying cushions ( those pews can be unforgiving to the rear end ) to find the colour scheme continued. The musical director and conductor, Panaretos Kyriadzidis took up his position, with pianist Francesca Lauri and the story began. Florence Pike (mezzo, Natasha Elliott), housekeeper to Lady Billows (soprano, Charlotte Brosnan) was preparing milady’s parlour for the meeting of the May Day committee – Miss Wordsworth (soprano, Anna Marmion), mayor Mr Gedge (baritone, Adam Brown), vicar Upfold (tenor, Peder Holterman) and Superintendent Budd (bass, Masimba Ushe) to choose the May Queen.
Mr G, it is clear, rather fancies Miss W, whereas the vicar has other ideas entirely. The policemen is sensible, if ponderous and all defer to milady, who is ‘overbearingly enthusiastic’ (as described by Britten and his librettist, Eric Crozier). Yet Albert (tenor, Hugh Benson) is decided not upper class, being the greengrocer’s son and neither are his friends, Sid, the butcher’s boy (baritone, Alfred Mitchell) and Nancy, his girlfriend (mezzo, Megan Baker). One of the delights of this opera is the demotic, everyday language which Britten insisted upon. It is used well and wittily – after his night of debauchery which the May King prize money affords him, Albert thanks the shocked villagers ‘And I’d like to thank you all, for giving me the wherewithal.’
The opera is funny and this production is full of energy, verve and wit. The audience become participants, urged, at specific moments to rise for Lady Billows (as if in church) or to applaud. There are ‘Missing Person’ handbills circulated and beach balls thrown. Throughout, however, the music is spikily superb. Another great success for St Paul’s Opera and a triumphant excursion outside their usual repertoire. The auditorium was almost full last night and the next two night’s are sold out completely.
The performance was also special because it allowed those young singers who were understudying a part to take centre stage (although some of the singers would be appearing through out). This is all of a piece with St Paul’s stated aim to give the opportunity to perform to as many young singers as they can. They were excellent, as, I’m sure, the others will be too. If you can get hold of a ticket, I urge you to do so.
N.B. Some of the photographs attached to this article are taken from the St Pauls’ website and do not necessarily represent those performing last night. I must also declare an interest – as a supporter of SPO – you can see the cover of Opera in the programme above.