Review: Albert Herring

The following is reprinted from the Tallahassee Democrat (7 November 2004), with permission.

Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring (1947) is an intimate opera. It has a relatively small cast, a very small orchestra of 13 players, and is fairly short. Its tone is almost exclusively lyrical, its conflicts those of manners rather than those of actions. The story of moral repression and the youthful exuberance that overcomes it is told in colorful music of imagination and subtlety.

So I was curious when I saw that the Florida State Opera's production of Herring was being staged in Florida State University's Ruby Diamond Auditorium rather than in the smaller Opperman Music Hall. Not to worry: Stage director Matthew Lata, scenic and costume designer Gerry Leahy and lighting designer Victor En Yu Tan were able to use the greater space of the Diamond stage in a way that opened the visual field without making it seem to have been artificially stretched. Lata accomplished this through the use of more "supernumeraries," the operatic equivalent of extras in a movie, than usual and his decision to block most of the action at the front of the stage.

Albert Herring is a fine vehicle for young voices, and a good number of them can be heard in this production. Ryan Harper was very good as the title character. He was able to communicate both Albert's innocence and his curiosity physically as well as vocally. Harper will sing Albert again in Friday's performance. Oliver Mercer will sing the role today and Nov. 13.

Jeffrey Wienend and Megan Roth winningly portrayed the pivotal roles of the young lovers Sid and Nancy. The town elders were given with proper unctuousness by Luvada Harrison (Lady Billows), Melissa Vitrella (Florence Pike, who "scolded" the orchestra for what she considered their less-than-timely beginning of the second act), Christine Keene (Miss Woodsworth), Christopher Boulter (The Vicar) and Kyle Jones (The Mayor).

Malinda LaBar was a convincingly hovering Mum to Albert, and Victoria Wilson and Arian Ashworth were also convincing as local schoolgirls. Special mention should be given to youngster Colin Wulff, who was an agile and mischievous Harry.

FSU Opera Director Douglas Fisher led the orchestra in a well-paced, exciting performance. Britten's imaginative score, with solo passages for virtually every instrument, is a difficult one, and the student performers carried it off with style.

This Albert Herring is an engaging afternoon or evening in the theater.

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