Synopsis of Albert Herring
Composed by Benjamin Britten
Sung in English
The opera is set in Loxford, a small town in East Suffolk.
Scene 1: The Home of Lady Billows—The aristocratic Lady Billows has decided to revive the local May Day Festival. She appoints a small committee (the Mayor, the Superintendant of Police, the Vicar and the local school teacher) to help identify a suitably chaste village girl to be crowned May Queen and offers 25 guineas as the prize. When the committee has its final meeting in April, the evidence against its nominees is universally damning (all pointed out in notes by Florence Pike, her personal assistant), —not one of the local girls qualifies to win the prize. The Superintendent of Police comes to the rescue. If there are no qualified candidates for Queen, why not have a May King? Why not Albert Herring, whose timidity is universally known? The rest of the committee eventually agrees and Lady Billows seizes the opportunity to rebuke the tawdry Loxford girls. The committee sallies forth to deliver the good news to Albert and his mother.
Scene 2: The Herring’s Greengrocer Shop— Three of the town’s children are playing outside the shop. Sid, the Butcher’s Assistant shoos them away and he is soon joined by Albert and Sid’s girlfriend Nancy. Their flirting makes Albert uncomfortable and they eventually leave. The committee arrives to announce Albert’s proposed coronation. He objects to the honor, but his mother overrules him, attracted by the 25 guinea award.
Act II May Day
Scene 1: Nancy and Sid are making preparations for the coronation feast, while everyone else is at the Parish Church celebrating Albert’s coronation. Sid persuades Nancy to join in a practical joke and they lace Albert’s lemonade with a liberal dose of rum. The guests arrive, bouquets are presented, speeches made, the prize delivered, and all join in a toast to the new May King. Albert takes a long swig from his glass and, feeling quite tipsy, demands more lemonade. Everyone sits down to enjoy the repast.
Scene 2: The shop, later that evening—Albert comes home in a state of semi-drunken exhilaration, but hides when Sid and Nancy appear outside. They laugh about Albert’s appearance and personality, but soon forget about him as their flirtation continues. After they leave, Albert’s excitement and embarrassment suddenly create a wild desire to experience much more of life and he leaves for an evening of previously inexperienced pleasures. His mother returns and closes up the shop, thinking Albert is already in bed.
Act III The Morning After
Albert’s disappearance has thrown the town into an uproar. When his coronation wreath is discovered, having been crushed by a cart on the Ipswich Road, everyone assumes the worst. They begin a lamentation over Albert’s demise, only to be interrupted by the arrival of the profligate himself, disheveled but unbowed. His description of his evening of sin shocks the village elders, while Sid and Nancy are impressed. As Albert admits he has embellished his adventures, the three of them are joined by the children again, who are now welcomed into the shop. Albert flings his coronation wreath into the audience, secure in the knowledge he can stand up for himself in the future.