To begin its 48th season, the Bronx Opera Company revived Benjamin Britten and Eric Crozier’s too-rarely-heard comedy “Albert Herring” (1947), for its first performances by the company since 1974, when Neil Rosenshein took the title role, years before his Metropolitan Opera career. Opening on January 10, for two hearings at the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College in the Bronx and, during the following weekend, two at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in Manhattan, the resulting rendition of the work, in which a dedicated mama’s boy suddenly and defiantly grows up, was sheer delight. Assistant Conductor Michael C. Haigler and Director Rod Gomez presided over an effective ensemble, with Artistic Director Michael Spierman slated to conduct on the remaining occasions.
“Albert Herring” turns elements of Britten’s “Peter Grimes” (1945) on their ears, with the small town crowd, galvanizing into a dangerous lynch mob in the earlier opera, ridiculed instead, the odd-man-out antihero of “Grimes,” hounded to his death, replaced by the bashful Albert, fêted, much to his chagrin, for virtues that get him elected the town’s May King, and soon reveling in telling off the very pillars of the community that chose him with a lurid description of his single night of all the drunken ‘debauchery’ that three pounds can buy.
Erik Bagger, alternating with Chad Kranak, made a strong showing as the eponymous innocent greengrocer’s son, a role written by Britten for his longtime life partner Peter Pears, convincing as he mused that he was missing out on life, as sheltered by his overprotective, guilt-tripping Mum, a forceful Heather Roberts, sharing the role with Helena Brown; going off on a tipsy tear, courtesy of the rum with which endearingly mischievous couple Sid (Steven Eddy, or Stan Lacy at other performances) and Nancy (Yiselle Blum, in alternation with Amy Maude Helfer) spiked his lemonade—to strains of the ‘love potion’ motif from “Tristan und Isolde;” and ultimately standing up to the town officials, as well as to his own mother, for the first time.
The other vivid star of the show was Terina Westmeyer—at other times Leslie Swanson—who made a Lady Billows, the moral beacon dominating Loxford society, of aptly over-the-top Wagnerian grandeur, with housekeeper Florence Pike (Caroline Tye, slated for replacement by Julie De Vaere); teacher Miss Wordsworth (Halley Gilbert, or Danielle Buonaiuto); vicar Gedge (Christopher Grundy, or Andrew Oakden); Mayor Upfold (Gilad Paz, or Joseph Michael Brent); and Police Superintendent Budd (Steven Fredericks, or C. David Morrow), following obsequiously and self-righteously in her wake.
Amusing at the coronation scene of “Albert the Good” were Gilbert’s rehearsal of her hapless pupils Emmie (Rachel Policar, or Hannah Fuerst), Cis (Nina Riley, or Kristina Saar Gaschel), and Harry (Noah Cadime-Gonzalez, or Eric Ackerman) in their anthem hailing May King Albert and the ridiculous speeches, particularly by Westmeyer’s Billows, dropping her notes, losing her place, and resorting to pointless platitudes like “Keep your powder dry and leave the rest to Nature,” and Paz’s filibustering Upfold. Outstanding in the final scene were the haunting quartet, for Roberts, Blum, Gilbert, and Grundy, and nonet, the dirge with most of the principals, for Albert, who was thought dead, turning to fierce condemnation when Bagger sauntered in, very much alive and an absolute mess, and brushing aside their threats, baited them instead.
Kudos to the cast, to Haigler and Gomez, and designers Peter Fogel (costumes), Meganne George (sets), and Joshua Rose (lighting) for a realization of “Albert Herring” that was, fittingly, both elegant and amusing.
The Bronx Opera Company will give Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” on May 2, 3, 8, and 9. Visit www.bronxopera.org
for further information.