A small audience trickled into the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Aycock Auditorium Sunday afternoon to view the final performance of Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). The theater was beautiful, outfitted richly and acoustically resonant.
The plot of this opera begins with a righteous group of community leaders, headed by the aristocratic and snooty Lady Billows, planning the annual May Day picnic. It is traditional to crown a pure, virtuous young lady as the May Queen, but no such lady was to be found – thus, the idea of crowning a May King was born. The group decides to crown Albert Herring, a shy boy living with his mother, as their first May King. Unfortunately, shenanigans that begin at the May Day picnic lead to the moral downfall of our May King, much to the chagrin of the righteous committee and Albert's mother. Albert, his friends Sid and Nancy, and the village children are much happier with his newfound, impure personality.
The show was well cast overall; there were those who stood out, of course, such as tenor Jonathan Ray, who held the title role, and soprano Bridget Moriarty, who played the virtuous Lady Billows. Bass Richard Hodges did wonders with the role of Superintendent Budd; he was comical and had a rich voice that filled the auditorium effortlessly. Soprano Lydia Pion and Baritone Jacob Kato filled the roles of Nancy and Sid, respectively, and sang them convincingly. My only complaint is with Soprano Kari Ringgenberg, who played Miss Wordsworth; she has a lovely voice and played her character well, but her voice was occasionally thin and sharp. Other than that, there was some very good singing in this show.
The pit orchestra was comprised of 13 instrumentalists conducted by David Holley. The orchestra was quite effective; it set the appropriate mood for each scene, and was occasionally used for comic effect. The orchestra overpowered the singers at some points, but the balance was good overall.
The sets, created by Donald Hartmann, were lovely and intricate. They were appropriate for the show and did not interfere with the action on the stage. The characters were dressed in convincing period costumes.
There were a few highlights in this show that cannot go un-heralded. All of the gentlemen in a given scene rose whenever Lady Billows sat or stood up as a sign of respect. Each time, she gestured for them to sit. This was a running gag throughout the show. Another bright moment occurred in Act II scene 1, when Miss Wordsworth was unsuccessfully attempting to get her students to sing together and in key. A final highlight was in Act III, when all of the cast members are searching for Albert. Amidst the chaos, Lady Billows cried, "Call in Conan Doyle!"
As it was the final performance, vocal exhaustion was apparent in some performers. There were lengthy interludes between consecutive scenes with music that seemed to fill no purpose. Regardless, attending this performance was a lovely way to spend the Sunday afternoon; my applause to all involved in the success of this show!