“THE grave’s fine and private place/but horribly cold and horribly chaste,” Benjamin Britten’s librettist Eric Crozier writes in imitation of Andrew Marvell.That pretty well sums up the theme of the springtime operatic comedy, “Albert Herring,” an eloquent attack on wowsers the world over and a marvellous choice for a group of local students and instrumentalists to practise their chosen art.
With musical preparation by Alan Hicks and an expert concertmaster in Barbara Jane Gilby, the required level of sophistication of instrumental and vocal flexibility is achieved, in the face of a very difficult score.
Director Caroline Stacey has a field-day with Britten’s chosen target, small-town English life, as she pokes fun at the jodhpur-clad Lady Billows, the vicar, the schoolmaam, the mayor the police sergeant and all the other characters that help to make the life of innocent greengrocery clerk, Albert, a living misery.
Stacey has her young cast moving around a lot – sometimes almost too much. Her approach, giving each actor/singer a definable character-type to work to, reaches its apogee in the magnificent parody of a dirge for the supposedly dead Albert.
Robert Shearer’s light tenor perfectly captures the tender, apprehensive Albert, later transformed into a confident young man about to embark on world. As Sid the butcher, Albert’s life-loving mate, Rohan Thatcher injects an earthier quality to the singing and acting.
Julia Wee excels as the officious, puritanical housekeeper Florence Pike, while Rachel Thoms throwsherself into the sneering, domineering Lady Billows with vocal gusto. Krystle Innes as Albert’s mother effectively shows what he is getting away from, while Elora Ledger’s sympathetic portrayal of Nancy supports Shearer’s carefully delineated character development.
Imogen Keen’s imaginative costume sees the entire cast covered in elaborate Macintoshes for the search and rescue scene, while her fantasy-creation of balloon like costumes for the children created an off-the-wall image of youth.
Gillian Schwab’s set is filled with multipurpose fruit display stands. The overhanging baskets of fruit help fill the black space of the stage and double as lanterns, not always perfectly illuminated.
Bearing in mind that these are student opera singers, this clever and amusing production has provided generous double-casting in most roles, and on the preview night when I saw it, the Saturday and Sunday night cast were performing.