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Albert Herring

Updated: Jan 15

Eric Crozier and Benjamin Britten, after Maupassant

Opera North

Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

January 12-March 2, 2024: 2 hrs 50 mins

Also on January 14 (2pm), 16 and 18 (7pm), January 20 (2pm), February 29 (7pm) and March 2 (4pm)

Richard Mosley-Evans as Budd and Dafydd Jones as Albert in Opera North's Albert Herring cr Tom Arber
Bad boy: Richard Mosley-Evans as Budd and Dafydd Jones as Albert in Opera North's Albert Herring. All pics: Tom Arber

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This is a revival of the production created in 2013 for the Howard Assembly Room at the Grand Theatre in Leeds, and consequently can be seen only there (though a filmed version will be free on OperaVision later in the year). It’s “in the round”, except the room is long and thin, so in fact most of the audience are on one side or the other of a fairly narrow performing space.

The performers must keep moving and turning to avoid having their backs to anyone for too long, and Giles Havergal’s production (revived by Elaine Tyler-Hall) achieves that cleverly.

There’s even a bit of dancing, which fits well enough for the comedy-satire on English village life created in 1947 for Britten’s English Opera Group, which was made for touring and employed small casts (there’s no chorus, but some magnificent ensemble pieces) and a miniature orchestra, here conducted by Opera North music director Garry Walker with great skill.

The world we see in Albert Herring is one that was passing away even in 1947, but we can look back on it with amused affection. The village grande dame (whom everybody kowtows to) decides it’s time to choose the year’s Queen of the May, and a suitably virtuous girl must be found. Trouble is, there aren’t any – they’ve all been observed in suspicious situations, or spotted wearing short skirts or in other heinous infringements of the moral code. As the text says: "Country virgins, if there be such, think too little and see too much!"

So they hit on the idea of making 22-year-old Albert Herring, downtrodden son of the greengrocer’s shop owner, into their King of the May. He’s suitably invested at a village fete – but mischievous young couple Sid and Nancy spike his lemonade with rum and he loses his inhibitions and has a wild night out (we never learn exactly what he got up to, and his own account at the end may be deliberately exaggerated, but he discovers he can be his own man). At first, when he’s not at home in bed the following morning, all presume the worst – but… all ends happily.

It's a great piece of fun with a gifted cast of singers who are also character actors, and that’s what it has this time round.

Judith Howarth is Lady Billows; the aforementioned grande dame gives an almost heroic quality to her role rather than one merely of entitled bombast (I liked her pronunciation of “gels” for “girls”). Heather Shipp, as her housekeeper Florence Pike, is such an instinctive comedienne that she comes close to overshadowing everyone with her self-important busybodying.

Dafydd Jones is the new Albert, making his debut with the company, with a voice that’s entirely on top of the role and a repertoire of facial expressions for the reluctant good boy. Everyone else has made their part a real turn: Amy Freston as Miss Wordsworth the schoolteacher, Paul Nilon as the mayor, Richard Mosley-Evans as Superintendent Budd (really a village bobby type), Claire Pascoe as Mrs Herring. Dominic Sedgwick teams up with Katie Bray as Sid and Nancy, and the RNCM’s Rosa Sparks, as Emmie, leads the team of talented youngsters.

More info and tickets here


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