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Every opera poses a director's dilemma, some crossing where music, words and drama somehow conflict on the way to greater glory. For Britten's Albert Herring, it is the opening scene where busy work finally pushes the piece away from the dock.
The director of the Curtis Opera's production, Chas Rader-Shieber, offered symbols. The town was placed in miniature— houses, church and all— for the housekeeper to push here and there while singing about the imperious Lady B's next project, the naming of the Queen of the May. Tough call.
Fortunately, the arrival of the committee and Lady B propelled the opera into the comic and serious heights it intended. Albert Herring appeals to ensembles at this level. Handsomely written for voices, beautifully crafted for small orchestra, the work thrives even in unsteady hands, but blossoms when presented with the care that Curtis musicians manage to wrap and deliver their performances.
It can be near-farce, or, as Curtis decided, a comedy with shadows and glimpses of sadness in the dark evolutions of life. These performers sharpened the generational divide, appeared to relish the cracking of traditions and celebrated the robust pulse of young love.
This performance offered a new level of local mountings of this piece. The singers and players possessed the craft and guile to reach that level of serio-comedy to which the best companies aspire. The crevasse separating the town elders from the young was heightened by the presence and singing of baritone Elliot Madore and soprano Elif Ezgi Kutlu. Fluent onstage, they generated warmth and depth in their roles as rebels but also traditional lovers. It's easy to admire the writing for those roles. It renders both singers three-dimensional and heroic. Both sang English so clearly that the supertitles were forgotten.
The title role demands theatrical range of the tenor to match the subtle coloration Britten devised. The role takes young Albert from village dolt to unwitting rebel and, finally, deep personal discovery. Brenden Patrick Gunnell seemed born to the theatrical image and apt for the vocal line. The person evolved, Gunnell's voice showing greater darkness and clarity as the piece went on.
The dominating dowager of the village, sung by Heidi Melton, provided the social— and vocal— contrast to complete this study in civic rectitude and natural grace. She is an able comedienne and a direct, schooled singer able to pick up the opera, seize attention simply by singing and so push the drama along.
Everyone in the cast had a witty image of their roles and offered added quirks and details to sharpen the satire immanent in being vicar, mayor or police superintendent. The meeting of their committee, carried on while they sat on those miniature symbols of civic solidity, had the force of universality: Such people live everywhere and meet regularly to pontificate.
The deft portrayers of those roles— Lishir Inbar, Allen Boxer, Nathan Bachhuber, Dominic Armstrong and Hanan Tarabay, the housekeeper— valued their ensemble function while declaring their individuality. Claudia Huckle found much music and humanity in her role as Albert's obtuse Mom. The satire everywhere was sharp.
David Hayes drew exemplary playing from the small orchestra. There are no ordinary notes in this score, and he encouraged discoveries of the extraordinary pairings and dialogues where so much dimension lies.
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