Albert Herring / RCM International Opera School – Cast One / Britten Theatre

The Royal College of Music International Opera School’s production of Albert Herring is running at the Britten Theatre, Prince Consort Theatre in early July.

This is the first of two posts (the second will be published on Thursday next week) about the production and features on Cast One’s opening night.

The Britten Theatre provided an intimate setting for an unexpectedly immersive performance of Britten’s comic opera. An enlightening production enhanced with assured performances, insightful direction and rich set designs.

The most striking element in this production was the presence of a silent antagonist – The Outsider (Michael Taylor Moran). The Outsider – a 50s rocker bedecked in obligatory 501s and black leather jacket. The character added sexual tension to proceedings, first in a tender moment in the shop in the first act, and later in the final scene when Albert returns from his night of debauchery wearing the leather jacket himself.

The Outsider was an ingenious addition, tackling the ambiguity of Albert Herring’s overnight disappearance and the fabricated debauchery in the denouement. He was also a pragmatic way of providing dramatic interest in long musical interludes.

The presence of The Outsider achieved more.  It moved the comic opera from its traditionally ‘twee’ setting into something far more vibrant: post-war society on the cusp of sexual revolution. It also made Albert desirable. When The Outsider later turned down a solicitation by town mayor Mr Upfold, Albert’s status as a gay man in search of his first kiss was firmly established.

Nick Pritchard as Albert Herring. Photography (c) Chris Christodoulou

Nick Pritchard’s Albert was adorable – funny, self-aware and forgivable. A hero we wanted to see go out on an all-nighter and come back transformed.

Nicholas Morton as Sid, and Angela Simkin as Nancy. Photography (c) Chris Christodoulou

Sid (Nicholas Morton) and Nancy’s (Angela Simkin) effortless chemistry illustrated how the new generation considered themselves set aside from the traditions upheld by their self-righteous forebears. In the first scene of Act Two  Nancy gently chastised her Sid for sneering at proceedings. This made their sub-plot a whole richer, preparing us for the conflict they would both inevitably face when Nancy later realised the extent of Sid’s ‘cruel’ nature.

All the cast turned in outstanding performances. All of the voices sparkled in the Britten Theatre, most notably Natasha Day’s Miss Wordsworth, Janis Kelly’s Lady Billows and Nick Pritchard’s Albert.

Special mention to Joel Williams (second from right in the top picture) for a well-observed and brilliantly obsequious Mr Upfold,  brimming with awkward mannerisms belying a darker secret.

And Polly Leech (second from left in the top picture) whose Florence Pike succeeded in painting an entirely different take on the town bigwigs, making Lady Billows appear forgiving and compassionate in comparison to her assistant’s eager and supercilious judgments and moralising.

The Royal College of Music International Opera School’s production runs until Wednesday 8 July, with performances on 4th and 6th (Cast Two) and 8th (Cast One) July 2015. Book tickets on the Royal College of Music website.

All pictures are the copyright of the marvellous Chris Christodoulou.

Proved: singing is relaxing

Classical music marketeers need worry no more. The Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science has worked on a study that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that attending a live classical music concert physically reduces stress. So too, it seems, singing.

The study was carried out by composer and conductor Eric Whitacre who worked with 15 singers and 49 audience members – some seasoned concert-goers and musicians and some classical music novices. All submitted saliva samples, wore ECG monitors and completed a questionnaire.

The findings revealed that audience members experienced decreases in levels of stress hormones cortisol and cortisone. Singing also reduced stress hormones in the body and relaxed performers in rehearsal. Stress levels increased during performance.

Specifically, the study concluded:

:: Watching a concert also led to decreases in negative mood states (afraid, tense, confused, sad, anxious and stressed) and increases in positive mood states (relaxed and connected)

:: Singing in a low-stress rehearsal reduced levels of stress hormones (cortisol and cortisone) and didn’t affect psychological anxiety, but singing in a high-stress concert increased stress hormone levels and psychological anxiety

:: The overall act of singing reduced the cortisol-cortisone ratio, suggesting that singing has an inherently relaxing effect regardless of how stressed people feel

There’s a chance to see the study conducted again at a concert of music by Eric Whitacre at Cheltenham Festival on 7 July. There’s also a talk discussing the findings of both studies on 11 July called ‘Is singing Good for you?’

Book tickets at www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/whats-on/.

Walking along Aldeburgh Music history

I visited Snape Maltings Concert Hall recently. Whilst I was there, I took a few moments to wander around the marshes. Buried amongst the reeds was a long duckboard stretching the length of the concert hall on which names of notable individuals have been engraved. A lovely walk through history on what was an unexpectedly hot day.

Kieran Cooper. Marketing and Box Office chap at the Aldeburgh Foundation. Spoken of in hushed whispers when I started there in 1995. Now immortalised on the walkway in the marshes, but in case anyone is wondering, Kieran is still very much alive.

David Heckels. Chairman of the Aldeburgh Foundation in 1995. Handsome. Charming. Fine hair combed within an inch of its life. Stalwart supporter of the Festival. Part of the landscape.

Rita Thomson. Britten’s carer. Key player in Red House history.

Alan Britten. Nephew of the composer. Smiley.

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Sheila Colvin. General Director at the Aldeburgh Foundation when I was there between 1995 and 1997. Fantastic hair. Defiant walk. Imposing desk in an office with the best view over Aldeburgh HIgh Street. Enviable signature. Called me ‘Poppet’. Until today, I had no idea of her TV background.