Albert Herring
Review by Willard Manus

L.A. Opera followed Verdi with Benjamin Britten, whose comic chamber-opera ALBERT HERRING was given a sprightly and vivacious production at the Music Center. Composed in 1947, the opera pokes fun at the puritanism and hypocrisies of a 19th century English market town. Lady Billows (Janis Kelly), the rich grand-dame of the village, has decided to revive the local May Day Festival whose queen was supposed to epitomize chastity and innocence. When no local lass could fit the bill, a shy, timid young lad, Albert (Alek Shrader) was picked in her place, much to his dismay, of course.

Poor Albert's protests go unheeded by his crass, domineering mother (Jane Bunnell) and by the dictatorial Lady Billows. He is forced to take part in the bucolic coronation (replete with civic speeches, maypole dances and Christian hymns). To shame him even further, a roguish couple, Sid and Nancy (Liam Bonner and Daniela Mack, respectively) decide to spike his lemonade with rum, an act that has unforseen and hilarious consequences.

ALBERT HERRING is peopled with raffish characters, such as the Mozartian housekeeper, Florence Pike (Ronnita Nicole Miller, in a bravura performance); the Vicar Gedge (Jonathan Michie), Miss Wordsworth, the head teacher (Stacey Tappan); the town mayor (Robert McPherson); and the police chief (Richard Bernstein). These stuffed shirts were counter-balanced by a trio of irreverent working-class ragamuffins (Caleb Glickman, Erin Sanzero, Jamie-Rose Guarrine).

Conductor James Conlon and director Paul Curran combined to give the opera a delightfully blithe touch. Performances were splendid and Britten's 65-year-old score sounded fresh and appealing, especially when it was underscoring Albert's defiant coming of age as a man.

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