Peabody hits the right note in 'Herring'

MUSIC REVIEW

November 22, 1993|By Kenneth Meltzer | Kenneth Meltzer,Contributing Writer

The Peabody Opera Theatre over the weekend provided operagoers with an early holiday gift in the form of an expert rendition of Benjamin Britten's 1947 comic "Albert Herring."

"Albert Herring" concerns the misadventures of a young man who involuntarily becomes the object of his village's attention.

vTC The town leaders are unable to find a girl virtuous enough to hold the title of "May Queen."

The elders instead focus upon young Albert, who is perennially tied to his mother's apron strings, and elect him "May King."

During the awards ceremony, a few of Albert's friends spike his ** lemonade with rum.

His inhibitions removed, Albert secretly departs for a night of debauchery.

Upon his return the next morning, Albert unabashedly describes his escapades to the horrified townspeople.

With his independence firmly established, Albert contentedly resumes work in his mother's grocery.

A fine performance of a great comic opera, which "Albert Herring" most certainly is, requires a delicate approach.

The interpretation must never degenerate into mere slapstick or caricature.

In particular, the pathos of Albert's repressive domestic life must be presented clearly and realistically to make his metamorphosis a source of comic exhilaration for the audience.

In the Nov. 19 performance, tenor David Stebbing, delivered a musically and dramatically satisfying assumption of the title role.

His Act II monologue "Albert the Good!" was both comic and achingly poignant.

In fact, all 13 soloists sang convincingly and moved with purpose under the expert guidance of Artistic Director Roger Brunyate. Carl Chambers and Nicolee Wilken were vocally and dramatically attractive as the young lovers Sid and Nancy. Among the village elders, Gregory Lipscomb was particularly outstanding as a sonorous and dignified Superintendent Budd.

James Fouchard's sets and John Lehmeyer's costumes were appealing and delightfully conveyed the storybook quality of Britten's work.

Music Director Hajime Teri Murai conducted a sharply inflected and winningly paced rendition. The 12-member chamber orchestra reveled in Britten's remarkably varied tonal and rhythmic palette without overwhelming the singers.

Glowing ensemble productions such as this "Albert Herring" demonstrate the Peabody Opera Theatre's invaluable role as a chamber alternative to the large-scale productions of the ever-improving Baltimore Opera Company. Operaphiles rejoice; your beloved art form thrives in Baltimore.

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