13 July 2008

Albert Herring at Glyndebourne

My second visit to Glyndebourne this year was to see Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring. A lightly comic opera that suited the mood for a Saturday afternoon in July where the sun was valiantly winning the battle with a fey foolhardy grey clouds.

We got there as soon as the garden opened at 3pm by which time there were already 50 cars there (we'll go even earlier next time) but we were still in time to grab one of the picnic tables in the opera house building (we were not so sure the sunshine would prevail!).

From then the day worked to plan. We had cake and champagne, a walk around the garden then back for cheese, biscuits and red wine before the opera started. In the long interval we had our main course, a cheesy pastry thing and a mix of the more interesting salads (e.g. radishes, beetroot, rocket), and our desert of raspberries and cream. And more wine.

The staging of Albert Herring was classical, as you can see from the picture, which made a change from the more common sparse modern staging that I am used to at Glyndebourne.

I think that on the whole I prefer the simpler stages particularly when, as in this case, there was some delay between scenes as the stage was changed. But I do not want to overplay the argument and the staging had its good points too.

There is not a great deal of plot to Albert Herring, good boy gets drunk and has a wild night, but that is hardly unusual for an opera as the story is just a framework for the music and singing.

Benjamin Britten's score provides the background to the singing and does not greatly intrude into the performance. One of my companions said that the music had no tunes, which may be another way of saying the same thing.

So it all comes down to the singing and, as always, Glyndebourne delivers where it really matters. Albert Herring is an ensemble opera without any lead roles, Albert himself is not even in the first act, and it is the mix of many voices that makes this opera work.

For me, the highlight of the opera was when Albert was missing, presumed dead, and the rest of the ensemble were in his mother's shop singing about him. They all sang at the same time taking it in turns to lead the lament. Pure magic to end a wonderful day.

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