For an opera that’s never likely to find itself set on a spaceship, this traditional staging is still fresh and alive and entirely appropriate for Britten’s Edwardian comedy.
There’s a soundness and solidity about John Gunter‘s designs that render the production timeless.
The worthies of Loxford, the small and stifling Suffolk town invented by Britten and his librettist Eric Crozier, are splendidly played in James Robert Carsen‘s revival. Susan Gorton as busybody Florence Pike, Amy Freston as School Ma’am Miss Wordsworth and a particularly impressive line-up of men Robert Davies (Reverend Gedge), Adrian Thompson (Mayor Upfold) and Lynton Black (Superintendent Budd) sing strongly with well-delineated characterisations.
So English is the formidable Lady Billows, that you’d never know the soprano was Australian. A convincingly aged-up Miranda Keys commands the stage with her imperious demand for conformity and shakes the rafters with her incisive voice, which impressed many at Cardiff this year, where she reached the finals. Amongst all the rambunctious comedy, Britten gives these grotesques some searingly beautiful music, which helps pull them back from being mere ciphers.
As the ingenuous apron-strung hero, Robert Murray is a tubby lad, growing flabby on his mother’s stern indulgences. Excellent of voice, he shows a fine comic side too in his hatching of a personal revolution, spurred on by the effects of laced lemonade.
Julia Riley‘s Nancy is attractive but never sexy and with a less than voluptuous Jared Holt as her lover Sid, the eroticism of their music gets lost. There’s not a lot to inspire Albert on to unprecedented acts of carnal adventuring and, rather than embodying youthful rebellion, this is a couple one can see turning into their elders far too soon.
Like Murray and Holt, conductor Rory Macdonald is a former Jette Parker Young Artist and, barring a few moments of sluggishness in the first act, he leads a lively and buoyant performance from the excellent chamber band.
Diction is not always of the best across the cast, not helped by the imposition of wavering bumpkin accents, and the explanation for Albert’s wild night of debauchery is maybe less ambiguous and more specifically straight than Britten and Crozier intended. These gripes aside, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had from this tale of a lad breaking free from the constraints of family and community. All told, this is a pleasing account of a delightful work. Long may it stay in the repertoire.