February 19, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 78  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

OPERA REVIEW

Albert Herring
Starring: Graham Thompson, Chelsea Callaghan
Director: Theodore Baerg

By Dallas Curow
Gazette Staff

Director Theodore Baerg introduced this year’s UWO Opera production of Albert Herring with an appropriate statement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for braving Benjamin Britten”.

Britten’s comedic opera, Albert Herring, with its fast-paced vocalizing and slow-paced plot, can be a challenge to enjoy. It takes a brave and attentive audience willing to invest mental energy and actively listen to the music to appreciate Britten’s apparent genius.

Albert Herring takes place in 1900 and tells the story of a mama’s boy grocer whose inevitable rebellion slowly unfolds. The show begins with the wealthy Mrs. Billows, who is seeking to find a suitable “May Queen,” a young and virtuous girl, to whom she can award 25 pounds.

After realizing the town’s female population is seriously lacking in virtue, Billows opts to find a “May King” instead. Young and innocent Albert Herring is suggested as an appropriate candidate, and promptly wins. A glass of spiked punch at his award ceremony begins the comedic demise of his character.

As Lady Billows, Chelsea Callaghan immediately established the authority and stuffiness of her character. In the opening scene, Callaghan sets the tone of professionalism, which carries throughout the show.

Another notable performance includes Megan Nutall as schoolteacher Miss Wordsworth. The three townsmen — Brenden Parsons, Willis Bote and Trevor Van den Bussche — each played their roles competently and sang very well.

Graham Thompson, as Albert, proved that his vocal ability could stand alone, singing a cappella and against clashing accompaniment.

Considering the musical score of the opera is basically a continuous recitative (or talking/singing), it can be difficult to follow at times.

There are points when the performers seem to be jarred by the difficult entries and rhythms of the music. For the most part though, they fare well and at worst, only appear hesitant.

The prettiest song in the show is ironically, about death. The performers join in a fleeting moment of pleasant vocal harmony when they believe Albert is dead.

It is understandable that UWO Opera chose to perform Albert Herring this year as a part of a Benjamin Britten festival. Despite the less than melodic sounds of the opera, the overwhelming talent of the cast and the smooth staging of the production redeem what would be otherwise lacking.

 

 

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