ALBERT HERRING by Benjamin Britten and Eric Crozier, directed by Christopher Newton, conducted by David Angus, with Luc Robert, Peter McGillivray, Michèle Bogdanowicz, Joni Henson, Megan Latham and Sonya Gosse. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. November 30-December 5. $40-$60. Rating: NNN
Though he's best known for sombre operas like Peter Grimes and The Rape Of Lucretia, Benjamin Britten had a touch of humour that comes out in Albert Herring , this year's production by the Canadian Opera Company 's Ensemble Studio .
Set in the English village of Loxford at the turn of the century, the slight but engaging story deals with the choosing of the title figure to be the annual king of the May after all the village's young women are judged too morally lax to be queen. Turns out, though, that Albert's a shy, mother-dominated lad who, made drunk in a prank, uses the prize money to sow a few wild oats and gain his independence.
Director Christopher Newton 's production brings out the individuality of the assortment of village figures, including the imperious Lady Billows, who keeps a constant eye on the residents' propriety, her peccadillo-recording housekeeper Florence Pike, a quartet of upright village leaders and Sid and Nancy, Albert's friends.
But it's actually the music rather than the text that brings out the piece's light satire. There's as much character description in the notes as in the performances: a slithery, snakelike motif emerges when Lady Billows talks about village evils; a harp underscores the talk of Albert's goodness; martial music gives his disappearance a mock-heroic feel.
It's also a tricky score, with unexpected rhythms and surprising moments, well-played by the chamber orchestra under conductor David Angus , even if in full voice the musicians sometimes overpower the singers.
In the double cast production, standouts are Luc Robert 's believable Albert, whose voice grows in size as he becomes less constrained by village forces, Peter McGillivray and Michele Bogdanowicz as Sid and Nancy (whose splendid duet shows their emotions and sensuality) and Sonya Gosse as the guilt-inducing, overdramatic Mrs. Herring.