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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Comic Opera Masterpiece

The Florentine’s ‘Albert Herring’

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The Florentine Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s comic masterpiece, Albert Herring, was a bounty of energized musical riches. The audience was won over from the first moment by Britten’s incomparable gift for combining wit and humor with a strong, compelling melodic line. It’s an unusual skill among composers of light modern opera, blending melody effortlessly into the comic fabric of the story.

The reverberant acoustics of Vogel Hall flattered the superlative conducting of Christopher Larkin and his modest 12-piece orchestra, which provided a rich, full-bodied performance. Unfortunately, the same acoustics took their toll on the clarity of the cast’s vocal and musical enunciation, making it difficult at times to fully enjoy the best efforts of the beautifully coordinated ensemble. Nevertheless, the cast performed with an effortlessly joyous aplomb, in keeping with the light-hearted spirit of the work. Supertitles would have helped, especially since this cast sings at full throttle.

The story of a repressed young man chosen as the May King (because no morally suitable girl can be found to serve as Queen) provides plenty of laughs—especially after he discovers that he has been drinking spiked lemonade. The cast’s up-to-date, vigorous performance style did not always coincide with the bucolic turn-of-the century setting as originally conceived, but this is a minor flaw—a small price to pay for a production as artfully assembled as this one.

The stage production, under the discreet hand of Noele Stollmack, was economically sparse. The costumes designed by Holly Payne were surprisingly elaborate, especially those worn by Kathy Pyeatt as the aggressive Lady Billows, whose vocal and acting skills matched her outfits. Mention should be made of Rodell Rosel as Albert, but the entire cast was uncannily uniform in quality. Albert Herring was a terrific show, verging on superior musical comedy rather than opera.
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