Cast Two in the Royal College of Music International Opera School’s production of Benjmain Britten’s Albert Herring delighted just as Cast One’s performance did last night at the Britten Theatre, securing the show as by far the best production I’ve seen of Herring in a long long time.
A different cast brought subtle differences to the characters and the story. Peter Aisher’s Albert was a complex, isolated individual, often bemused and detached. His character appeared far more passive in proceedings, bringing more into focus how important the endeavour was to Lady Billows (Janis Kelly). Sid seemed more brutish, Nancy demur. Florence Pike seemed less judgmental this time around, but proud of her conscientious note-taking and filing.
Loxford’s dark side was revealed during the opening ensemble in the first act. Fueled with a fresh energy, a wiry, spooked Mr Upfold (William Wallace) jostled with a benign, obsequious Mr Gedge (Kieran Rayner). Gedge’s obsession with with a flighty Miss Wordsworth seemed pitiful at times. The self-congratulatory jaunt around the church hall table was a delight. Simon Grange’s Superintendent Budd was the right side of blustering pomposity – anyone playing the character should get an automatic gold star for having the toughest line in the opera, “a criminal case of rape”. Is there any other kind?
Miss Wordsworth underlined what was at stake with the whole affair during a tense rehearsal with Cis, Emmie and the utterly brilliant Harry during the first scene of the second act.
The mourning for Albert moved on at a gratifying pace during the third act with some tight ensemble work both in the band and on stage.
There were some breathtaking voices in this production – Albert and Upfold especially rang out. If we needed reassurance that the future generation of performers were secured, then this production provided it. It was the direction I particularly appreciated in the RCM’s production of Albert Herring. Both casts clearly received tailored direction which made for distinctive performances. The exquisite and rich set design also deserves acknowledgment. That the run went on for only four nights seems criminal. This was an unexpectedly joyous thing.