The Repertory Opera Company (ROC) is taking part this year in the worldwide celebration of the Benjamin Britten centenary called Britten 100*, with a production of one of the composer’s earlier operas, Albert Herring.
Unlike some of Britten’s darker works, this opera is actually funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. The secret to comedy is timing, and Britten’s masterful setting of the music paid off in his perfectly timed one-liners, which the ROC cast delivered to an appreciative audience. Like the best British comedies, there is an element of social satire involved in the plot: a cast of loveable meddlers in a stereotypical English country village on a crusade against youthful vice.
ROC’s musical director, Brian Farrell, exuded confidence as he sat down at the piano to begin the dress rehearsal on October 16. (The show was double-cast — names below were from this performance.) With his sleeves literally rolled up, Farrell plunged into the music with youthful energy, joined by a percussionist to guide the onstage action.
As the schoolteacher, lyric coloratura soprano Coril Prochnow got the most from her humorous lines as well as her brilliant high notes. The vicar was played by Erin Von Pingel, who added an engaging comic persona to his beautiful lyric baritone. Tenor Steve Moritsugu played the mayor—cheerful and agreeable, the perfect small-town politician. And playing the role of the town Superintendent was bass-baritone John Hansen, whose wide comic range and abilities punched up the action.
The queen bee of the village, Lady Billows, was played by Julia Metzler, whose powerful voice and passionate persona were perfect in the role. Her chief accomplice, Erin Murphy, as the maid Florence, was solid and believable in the role, and delivered her hilarious lines with clear diction in a ringing mezzo-soprano.
Though the village leaders liked to believe they were in charge, the main character’s real transformation is due to the work of more lowly townspeople. Albert’s scheming but good-natured friend, Sid, was played by Vincent Robles, a commanding baritone. Sid’s comely girlfriend, Nancy, was winningly portrayed by mezzo-soprano Bonnie Snell Schindler. And in the influential role of Albert’s mother, Mrs. Herring, mezzo-soprano Aumna Iqbal took the stage with all the histrionics you’d expect of a real mother desperate to control her grown son.
Though the work is remarkable for its ensemble dynamic, Joseph Von Buhler was particularly convincing in the role of the timid Albert Herring, and sang with a strong, clear tenor.
This ten-year-old company is led by LizBeth Lucca, a gifted artistic and general director with a proven knack for comedy. But in Albert Herring, Ms. Lucca has taken on a new challenge. It is a beautifully realized, entertaining show, and a stunning achievement to mark the 100th anniversary of Britten’s birth.
*More specifically, this production was part of the more local and ongoing Britten 100/LA celebration. Check their website to see what else is in store.