An ‘in the round’ production which justifies Sviatoslav Richter’s view of Albert Herring as “The greatest comic opera of the 20th century”.
It’s cold and bleak outside, but Elaine Tyler-Hall’s revival of Giles Havergal’s lovingly crafted production brings Summer to the cozily intimate setting of Leeds’ Howard Assembly Room. Such is the closeness of the singers to the audience that you could almost ‘ping’ the ladies’ curls and admire the pliancy of Leslie Travers’ costumes, aided by John Bishop’s subtle and diverting lighting design.
Just as with Benjamin Britten’s earlier masterpiece, Peter Grimes, the townsfolk are shown up for their snobbery and insularity – ‘Not in East Suffolk’ – although here, it is only the upper echelons who bear the brunt of the satire. As always with this company, casting is spot on, with that characteristic ensemble feel. Judith Howarth’s Lady Billows, resplendent in an array of mauves and pinks, is less Hyacinth Bucket, more Lady Bracknell, and with her Wagnerian chest voice she alternately terrifies and seduces. Heather Shipp’s Florence Pike and Amy Freston’s Miss Wordsworth are the epitome of small-town uprightness (or should that be uptightness?) both singing with magisterial emphasis yet with a sly vulnerability.
You could not ask for a better trio of Vicar, Mayor and Superindendent of Police than William Dazeley, Paul Nilon and Richard Mosley-Evans. Those familiar with Garsington Opera will have seen Dazeley and Nilon in many diverse roles, and their singing and acting here did not disappoint: Dazeley’s lovely tone was heard to advantage in the vicar’s aria extolling Virtue, and Nilon’s tenor, alternately sweet and acerbic as required, partnered his deeply committed acting to perfection. Mosely-Evans’ Superindendent Budd was hilarious, whether nodding off during a speech or reprimanding the less than virtuous youth.
“As always with this company, casting is spot on, with that characteristic ensemble feel”
The pair of young lovers were beautifully captured in Dominick Sedgwick’s Sid and Katie Bray’s Nancy, both singing with luscious tone, and Claire Pascoe was an unerringly convincing Mrs Herring. Rosa Sparks enchanted as Emmie Spashett, the children managed to be cute without being nauseating, and even the ‘gels’ rejected for their lack of virtue were engagingly done.
Our unlikely hero was perfectly captured in Dafydd Jones’ performance, whether being outraged at the ‘theft’ of peaches or insouciant towards the townsfolk after his escapade. Astute opera goers may well have spotted his talent when he took on extra lines as one of the shepherds in the Garsington Opera production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in 2022, so it was no surprise that his beautifully rounded, mellifluous tone proved ideal for this role.
The Orchestra of Opera North was conducted by its music director Garry Walker, and it would be difficult to imagine more engaging and idiomatic playing than he obtained from this chamber ensemble; the glorious entr’actes were shaped with loving skill, and every section shone throughout.
The production will be filmed and streamed online on the OperaVision platform later in 2024, which will be some consolation for the fact that, unlike the other productions in this Opera North season, Albert Herring will not be touring. There are eight more performances in Leeds, with limited availability.
• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.