I watched *Albert Herring* online on May 28, 2021. It was a production from Minnesota Opera, staged in April 2021 in an empty theater using COVID protocols. A chamber opera like this is perfect for the pandemic!
*Albert Herring* is a comic opera from 1947, with music by Benjamin Britten and a libretto by Eric Crozier, based on a novella by Guy de Maupassant. It’s a charming, frothy little opera, set in an English village. The opera opens with the local busybody, Lady Billows, bringing together the village leaders to discuss what local girl should be crowned the May Queen. Every girl who is proposed is struck down because she has some besmirch on her character. They decide to give the honor to a local boy, Albert Herring, who works at the greengrocer. This leads to lots of wacky drama.
The opera itself was the star of the show. It’s so expertly made - - beautifully written for the voices, every dramatic gesture wonderfully expressed through the vocal line and the orchestra. Masterful writing. Economical, in the best sense.
The cast was uniformly excellent, with top marks going to the singers in the two most prominent roles, David Portillo as Albert and Ellie Dehn as Lady Billows. Portillo is perfect for the role, such a sweet voice and an equally sweet stage manner. I would love to see him as Tamino in *The Magic Flute.* I’ve always said that opera is only interesting when Papageno or the Queen of the Night is onstage, but he would make Tamino worthwhile.
Dehn made the most of her myriad opportunities as Lady Billows. It’s a showy role for a soprano with a certain attitude and bearing. I saw *Albert Herring* at Gotham Chamber Opera in 2006 and in that production Lady Billows was played by Karen Huffstodt. My date that night asked me, “She’s marvelous, do you know her?” I said, “I haven’t heard her before, I just know she’s well known for playing Salome.” My date said, “She’s playing Salome tonight!” It’s that kind of a role, and Dehn clearly was having a marvelous time.
I also want to mention bass Allen Michael Jones in one of the supporting roles. What a gorgeous voice, I want to hear more from that guy. Conductor Jane Glover led the music with crackle, sparkle, and (a favorite word of mine lately) verve.
The production was thoughtfully directed by Doug Scholz-Carlson. He clearly was after something more than a “point-the-camera-at-the-stage” situation - - he thought of the whole show as a filmed experience that would be watched online. Hand-held camera throughout, smoothly used, with occasional visits backstage and shots of the empty auditorium, used sparingly and with wit.
Here's a darling little scene. Dehn is the lady in the turban, Portillo is the guy in the sweater vest.