OPERA NEWS review of ALBERT HERRING by Mark Thomas Ketterson
Florentine Opera celebrated Benjamin Britten's centenary with a welcome opportunity to experience the composer's comedy Albert Herring, the story of a repressed shop-boy who reluctantly becomes the "King" of the May when no young ladies of sufficient virtue can be found to hold the regular title (seen March 10). It's an amusing premise (made more so by the clever wordplay in Eric Crozier's text — where else can you hear the expression "slattern" in an opera libretto?) and provides a humorously perceptive take on Britten's consistent empathy for social outsiders.
Albert proved to be an excellent assignment for Rodell Rosel — a refreshing break from the usual character roles in which his appealing tenor is employed. Rosel's comic instincts are second to none (the look on his face when the poor kid was led in wearing his goofy May King crown was priceless), and the character reigned in some of his broader impulses; hopefully this gifted young singer will keep the role in his repertoire and continue to grow in it.
Director William Florescu elected to update the opera's original early-twentieth-century setting to around 1960, which engendered some playful flights of fancy from his design team, particularly in costumier Holly Payne's primary-color, fancy-dress crinoline couture and Dawn Rivard's over-the-top bouffant hairdos. Noele Stollmack's setting of plain white walls, complemented by chrome and white laminate tables that were variously reconfigured to suggest the different locales, was rather stark, but serviceable. Florescu's straightforward direction perhaps missed several opportunities for visual comedy that might have enlivened proceedings (as might surtitles; some of the text was unintelligible), but nothing jarred, and the humor primarily sprang from the characterizations.
Kathy Pyeatt was very funny as Lady Billows, who here emerged as less of the usual sour old English handbag and more of an impossibly pretentious, country-club Queen Bee from hell).
Pyeatt used her blazing upper register to good effect as she bullied her minions into submission. Kathryn Leemhuis made her Florentine debut as Florence Pike; while the role does not provide a showcase for the mezzo's prodigious technical polish, her excellent diction and rock-solid middle register were much appreciated. Abigail Nims and Carl Frank sang pleasantly as Nancy and Sid, though their sexual chemistry needed to be jacked up a good ten or fifteen thermal units; there was little here for Albert to be titillated by. Alisa Suzanne Jordheim was cute as a button as Miss Wordsworth and tossed off her staccatos pertly as Andrew Wilkowske's Vicar, Jamie Offenbach's Superintendent and Kevin Newell's Mayor joined their feminine colleagues for a delightful traversal of the Act I sextet. Kristen DiNinno was the overprotective Mrs. Herring; Mikaela Schneider, Emily Pogorelc and Trevor Smith were the endearing children. Conductor Christopher Larkin, who also manned the keyboards, drew a first-rate performance from the twelve-piece chamber ensemble, drawn from the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra. Percussionist Terry Smirl was in fine form, and Lori Babinec captured the roughish humor of the bassoon line affectionately.
MARK THOMAS KETTERSON
Pictured above: Rodell Rosel as Albert in Albert Herring. Photo by Kathy Wittman, Ball Square Films ©2013