How many operas feature a man who is crowned May Queen because no one can vouch for the virginity of the village girls? Celebrating Benjamin Britten's Centennial year, Miami Opera Theater presents the twentieth-century comic masterpiece Albert Herring. Behind the opera's jolly tone and over-the-top characters is one of Britten's boldest, most socially revolutionary statements: a piece hardwired into the youthful urge to experiment, rebel and break free of social convention. The production will be directed by Delaware Opera's former Artistic Director Leland Kimball and conducted by Benjamin Smolder.
April 10-12, 2014
7:30 pm, Gates-Abegglen Theatre
$15 adult, $13 seniors, $12 student
Music by Benjamin Britten op. 39
Libretto by Eric Crozier
Director of Miami Opera and Conductor
Assistant Stage Director
Production Manager and Scenic Designer
Lighting Design and Technical Direction
Scene Shop Supervisor
Alex Lusht of MindIgnition
Wig and Make-up Designer
Roxanne De Luna & Una Lin
Erin Mizer and Amanda Horne
Lady Billows, an elderly autocrat ... Kristen Whalen
Florence Pike, her housekeeper ... Mikaela Hartong
Lauren Salem (cover)
Miss Wordsworth, Head Teacher ... Emily Farnell*, Courtney Burgtorf+
Mr. Gedge, the Vicar ... Daniel Huchla*, Tim Oliver+
Mr. Upfold, the Mayor ... Chris Smith*, Gibran Mahmud+
Superintendent Budd ... Steve Milloy*, Loren Reash-Henz+
Sid, a butcher’s shophand ... William Meriwether
Albert Herring, a grocer ... Maximillian Jansen
Nancy, from the bakery ... Lizabeth Malanga*, Rebecca Herbst+
Mrs. Herring, Albert’s mother ... Grace Deer
Emmie ... Deana Williams*, Megan Terlau+
Cis ... Courtney Katzmeyer
Harry ... Elise Ware
Supers ... Seth Wagner, Andrea Davies, Kayla Burley
April 10, 12 *
April 11 +
Albert Herring premiered in 1947, two years after the devastation of World War II. Coming on the heels of the searingly dramatic and tragic Peter Grimes and The Rape of Lucretia, both written right after the war, Britten’s only comic opera depicted life in a small town in his native Suffolk at the turn of the century. The opera, which was composed for the English Opera Group, a small touring company, to perform in provincial halls, was served up with nostalgia and laced with a goodly amount of biting satire.
The idea for a comic opera was proposed by Britten’s librettist, Eric Crozier. During the war, Crozier had seen performances of Così fan tutte and The Bartered Bride, both starring Peter Pears, Britten’s lifetime artistic partner and lover. Crozier (who rented two rooms in the upper story of Pears’ London home) gave Britten a copy of Maupassant’s short story Le Rosier de Madame Husson, suggesting that it would make an excellent companion piece to The Rape of Lucretia, with another starring role for Pears.
Crozier and Britten re-set the story in a small East Anglian market town and named the characters after their friends and acquaintances (e.g., Albert Herring was the owner of a grocery store near Snape, Suffolk). Britten loved Suffolk; indeed, while on a three-year sojourn in America, his reading of George Crabbe’s poems, set on the Suffolk coast, prompted him to return to England right in the middle of the war.
Crozier’s recreation of life in 1900 “Loxford” (derived from the actual town of Yoxford) is clearly affectionate at times. Crozier in fact resisted the urgings of their artistic producer, Eric Ebert, to express the “social criticism of the comedy and the mendacious prudery of the characters.” Crozier wrote: “Oh God! All so off the point…This isn’t an Expressionist or Trotskyist attack on the upper classes of a decadent England, but simple lyrical comedy.” He felt a “great sympathy” for Nancy, and wanted her “to sing with such tenderness and warmth that her words will do not only for the under-twenties, but also for those ripe middle-agers of thirty and over.”
Britten responded with music that brings these characters to life, using a wide range of forms from the composer’s toolbox, from a fugue in the first scene (“We’ve made our own investigations”) to suggest bureaucratic pomposity and confusion, to the young lover’s canon in Act Two (“Come along, darling”) whose musical phrases flirtatiously entwine and eventually join in ecstatic unison. Like Mozart, he cleverly employs pastiche in a quotation from Tristan and Isolde as Sid spikes Alfred’s lemonade with rum.
The music artfully swings between sunny naiveté and dreary despair, while never dwelling too long in either mood, and we have tried in this production to maintain this equilibrium. As Crozier wrote, “It mustn’t get too funny or too serious, but has to preserve its balance on a tightrope somewhere betwixt and between.”
Since Britten wrote this opera about his home “turf,” we have attempted in this production design to evoke a specific period in small-town English life, when classes were distinct and everyone knew their place. Our costume designer Meggan Peters has adorned the characters with lots of period detail to delineate the upper and lower classes (and those in between who aspire to move up). Set designer Gion DeFrancesco contrasts Albert and his Mum’s modest grocery environment with Lady Billows’ lavish estate. (He also playfully pokes fun at British nationalism at the High Tea scene, and even provides an exact replica of the “Swan Vesta” matchbox mentioned in the libretto). We hope this attention to the manifestations of a rigid social context serves to highlight Albert’s rebellion against the repressive status quo and his search for an independent identity.