February 10, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 72  

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Opera sings Herring

By Nicole Laidler
Gazette Staff

The cast and crew of UWOpera are busy putting the final touches on this year’s production; Benjamin Britten’s only comic opera, Albert Herring.

“This year we picked an opera that has a good story, is very funny and creative, but not really well known,” says UWOpera’s producer and director, Theodore Baerg. “People think of Benjamin Britten as somebody who writes these heavy dark pieces that leave you very depressed. This is not one of those.”

Written in 1947, Albert Herring is a coming-of-age story about a shy boy crowned village May King because no pure young women are available.

“Albert is living under his mother’s thumb,” says 27-year-old tenor Gerry Egan, who plays the lead role. “He is like any 18-year-old trying to gain independence and make decisions about life.” By the end of the third act, much of Albert’s innocence is lost.

Bringing an entire opera to life is an invaluable learning experience for students, Baerg says. “Talking about performance is great. Studying it is nice,” he says. “In the end, you grow by getting up on stage and doing it.”

All UWOpera productions are double-cast in order to give as many students as possible the chance to perform. Open auditions are held in April and September. A requirement to sing in Italian usually weeds out people who should not bother to apply, Baerg explains. Once accepted, students are expected to make a full commitment to the production — in exchange for an academic credit.

“Trying to put the opera first has been one of my biggest challenges,” says tenor Willis Bote, 23, who plays Mr. Upfold, the village mayor. “Right now, we’re putting in about six hours a day for the two weeks leading up to the production. The intensity of the work goes far beyond what a normal class would be.”

The goal of the UWOpera program is to give students a real taste of professional life. “I want to make this program as professionally relevant as possible,” Baerg says. “The schedule itself and the way we set everything up are exactly like a professional company.”

All the operas performed by UWOpera are staged professionally on a regular basis, he adds. “We don’t want students to spend their time learning a role that they will never sing again.” Even the little-known Albert Herring will be presented by the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto next season, Baerg explains.

The UWOpera production of Albert Herring will be performed at Talbot Theatre on Feb. 12, 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 15 at 2 p.m.. Tickets are $20 to $35 and are available through the Orchestra London Box Office by calling 679-8778.



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