The greatest comic opera of the century
Two of the most distinguished and revered personalities in British opera, the legendary director John Copley, and the conductor Steuart Bedford, join forces to create a new production of Benjamin Britten’s hilarious but revolutionary comic masterpiece, Albert Herring.
This is one of Britten’s most daring scores, presaging the social upheavals of the 50s and 60s. Albert is not an angry young man, but in this opera we see him break free from the restraints of his society; over the course of one night, he throws convention out of the window, loses his virginity and discovers the delights and repercussions of binge-drinking! The only virgin in the village is reborn before us, and in uproarious style.
Described by the famous Russian pianist, Sviatoslav Richter, as ‘the greatest comic opera of the century’ this opera has repeatedly entertained and delighted audiences since its first performance in 1947. A comic masterpiece, with words by Eric Crozier – which are so witty that they could be a play in their own right – this hilarious opera by one of Britain’s greatest composers cannot fail to keep you on the edge of your seat and laughing out loud.
With a cast of familiar faces and a showcase for young rising stars, these performances will celebrate the best of British opera.
- Composer — Benjamin Britten
- Librettist — Eric Crozier
- Based on — Based on Le rosier de Madame Husson by Guy de Maupassant
- Sung in — English
Prue Handley Costume Designer
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
~ Setting ~
Loxford, a fictional small market town in Suffolk. It is spring 1900, with the May Day Festival fast approaching.
~ Act I ~
Lady Billows has a significant responsibility on her hands. She must decide on who to crown as the May Queen; an essential part of the May Day celebrations. The individual selected must, however, be worthy of the title and be the very emblem of good behaviour and virtue. The trouble she faces is that each girl suggested comes with a catalogue of complications or a seedy past, and there is not one suitable candidate. The local dignitaries can see that Lady Billows is on the verge of giving up, so they throw a new idea into the ring. Instead of a May Queen why not have a May King. The young man suggested is Albert Herring, a hard worker, a respectful son with never a bad word to say about anyone who consistently exhibits exquisite behaviour. The decision is made. Together they head to the Greengrocers to inform Albert and his mother of the good news.
Albert is hard at work at the Greengrocer’s but is interrupted by Sid, the Butcher’s boy. Sid teases and mocks Albert for being under his mother’s thumb. Nancy, the Baker’s daughter, enters and Sid flirts with her right under Albert’s nose. Albert cannot help but watch and wonder what life would be like if he was more adventurous and less cautious. Bursting in upon the scene comes Lady Billows and the committee announcing that Albert has been elected as May King. Albert recoils from this title but is pressured to accept it by his mother who has her eye on the 25-sovereign reward attached to winning the title.
~ Act II ~
A marquee has been set up in the vicarage gardens to celebrate the crowning of the May King. Sid and Nancy who are helping with the preparations decide to trick Albert into drinking some alcohol by slipping rum into his lemonade. At the party, Albert is called to deliver a speech but the timid, meek man is tongue-tied and only manages an unimpressive few words. He reaches for his drink and after unknowingly consuming the alcohol he has a fit of hiccups and suddenly finds a new confidence.
Tipsy Albert returns to his mother’s greengrocers. He overhears Sid and Nancy talking about him in the street and discovers that they put rum in his drink. They mock him and pity him, calling him the ‘village simpleton’. This is all too much for the frustrated Albert who decides to take his prize money and to venture off alone for a night on the town. Mrs. Herring returns home and is worried when she realises that Albert is not there.
~ Act III ~
The following afternoon arrives and Albert, the May King, has still not come home. Members of the village gather in Mrs. Herrings shop, concerned about where Albert has gone. When the wreath of orange blossoms with which Albert was crowned is found, crushed under a cart, Mrs. Herring is devastated and fears the worst. Grief stricken, they all join together to mourn the loss of Albert. Just at that moment, Albert walks through the door and startles them all. He announces to them that he has been out drinking, getting into fights, and having a night like he has never had before. He makes sure to thank the committee for funding this night out. Appalled by this revelation, the committee strip him of his title as May King. Albert blames his mother for being too protective of him, reining him to the point where he simply had to break free. The committee scolds him, but Sid and Nancy watch on enjoying Albert’s new found liberation. Albert returns to work a changed and happier man.