Merola's Albert Herring
July 18, 2008
* Notes *
This evening the Merola Opera Program's Albert Herring opened with the first of two performances. The production, directed by Peter Kazaras, is charming. Donald Eastman's sets are clever and use the small space well. The lighting design from Kate Boyd is nice and simple. Though the opera was originally set at the turn of the 20th century, this production seems to inhabit a time closer to when the opera was written. For example, Wendy Lynn's lovely costumes were from the 1930s or 40s rather than the Victorian era. The only real compliant I have about the production has to do with Act III, when most of the characters are lamenting the apparent death of Albert. Some of the singers open umbrellas inside Herring's Green Grocer out of grief, which didn't seem well-motivated. Then the ensemble clumped up and started doing strange head-bobbles. At least they were more or less together.
Mark Morash conducted the dozen orchestra members well, and they sounded crisp for the most part. The cello and viola solos were particularly good. There were a few moments when the singers were not exactly with the orchestra, but these did not last long. Most noticeable were the claps of the children in Act I, they were not all on beat. In general, the children's voices were a bit cloying, one can only imagine that this was intentional.
The singing from the Merolini was impressive nearly across the board. Natasha Flores has both warmth and depth, she made the most of Mrs. Herring, and shone in Act III. Renée Tatum was funny as Nancy, her voice is pretty, and blended well with Darren Perry's clear-toned Sid. Benjamin LeClair made easy work of Mr. Budd, his volume was good and his voice is appealing. Tyler Nelson (Mr. Upfold) also sang with ease, his full tones were very pleasing. Eugene Chan was amusing as the vicar Mr. Gedge, though this role does not show his voice off, he sang well. Comely Ellen Wieser looked elegant, her voice was unpleasantly shrill, but this was not inappropriate for a neurotic schoolmarm. Nicole Birkland had her vibrato under control as beleaguered Florence Pike and Kate Crist was hilarious as Lady Billows. Crist has beautiful low notes but her high notes are somewhat harsh. James Benjamin Rodgers was utterly delightful in the title role. He acted well and his resonant voice was a joy to hear.
As for the actual opera, I enjoyed the various comical lines. I was especially taken when Florence Pike sang Act I's "Doctor Jessop's midwife," which has the word brain in it, not something that is normally in a libretto. I nearly had a hysterical fit when Albert sang "Albert the Good" in Act II Scene 2, as he sings the words "Albert the sheep" and also mentions guinea pigs and pastries.
* Tattling *
The audience was not too bad, no watch alarms or cellular phones were noted. There was talking during the orchestral parts, I had to hush the couples both behind and in front of me during the Act II overture, despite the fact that we just had an intermission.
A woman in the production crew, I assume it was the costumer Wendy Lynn, wore Stop Staring's Pleats Dress in an eggplant shade. Her gloves, hat, and stole were charming with it, but one is not quite sure about fur in summer.