l-r: Dale Travis, Juan Ontiveros, Judith Christin, Jonathan Michie, Alek Shrader, Christine Brewer, & Mark Schowalter.
Photo: Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera 2010
One of the unique things about the Santa Fe Opera is the way in which the seasonal monsoonal evening thunderstorms often provide added atmosphere to the operas that appear on their stage. I can remember a recent Salome
and Billy Budd
where nature provided uncredited scenic design with lightening and thunder. But things don’t always work out that way and Friday’s opening performance of Britten’s Albert Herring
, though thoroughly enjoyable, was not assisted by the routine thundershowers during the performance. Besides watching incongruous mists of falling rain waft across the bright sunny English countryside on May Day, the inclement weather provided some acoustic challenges to the production as well. Albert Herring
calls for comparably small orchestral forces and like it or not, sometimes you cannot simply out-sing and outplay mother nature.
Of course, with a superb cast that Santa Fe has assembled, one might think that possible. Everyone on stage is excellent, including the bright tenor of Alek Shrader in the title role. His more savvy peers, Sid and Nancy, are sung by an excellent Joshua Hopkins and Kate Lindsey who is paring her spectacular turns as Hoffmann’s Nicklausse
with another attention grabbing, if smaller, role. Jill Grove proves her comic chops in a hysterical performance as Florence Pike. Also notable among the cast was baritone Jonathan Michie as the Vicar. He's one of Santa Fe's current apprentice singers who made his main stage debut after the originally cast Wayne Tigges was tapped to permanently fill in for the four villains in the concurrently running Les Contes d'Hoffmann
. And, though it is not the central role in the piece, Christine Brewer’s Lady Billows gets deserved top billing. She’s famously known for her sense of humor in real life, and Brewer proved she can translate that into a fantastic comic performance. Granted, I couldn’t help feeling that one of the greatest living Wagnerian sopranos was slumming here in Albert Herring
, but stage appearances from Brewer are not as common as one might like, so I’ll take what I can get.
The production itself, designed by Paul Curran, is fairly set-intensive even by Santa Fe standards, with full-fledged scene changes throughout and a cast of supernumeraries who move furniture like they’re loading a Mayflower van. The first half of the show is brisk and often quite funny. Sadly, though, Curran and, arguably, conductor Sir Andrew Davis let things flag a bit in the second half. After Albert’s inebriation, the self-reflection comes on a bit heavy for an arguably slight opera. And maybe it’s just me but the Albert/Sid/Nancy Sedgwickian triangle
at the center of the plot seems a might trying. Usually the homoerotic subtext of Britten’s operas strikes me as being a product of his own time. But watching the quite handsome Shrader buddy-buddy with Sid and Nancy on the store counter was like substituting Singin’ in the Rain
for Y tu mamá también
But no matter your feelings about Albert Herring
, this is a fine production that musically and theatrically lives up to the high standards Santa Fe has developed over the years. Hopefully when you go see it the weather will be a little more design compliant. The show runs through August 24.
Labels: Santa Fe Opera 10