Young singers serve up a delightful “Albert Herring” at MB Music Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Robert Kopf (center) stars in the title role of Britten’s Albert Herring at the Miami Beach Music Festival Thursday night. Photo: Angelica Perez


Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring is a unique creation in the output of one of England’s greatest 20th-century composers. 

While Britten is usually identified with the serious and tragic nature of his operatic subjects, the 1947 opera is a comedy that satirizes the conventions of the art form. The title role is a send up of the troubled, tortured anti-heroes usually played in the composer’s operas by his partner and muse, tenor Peter Pears. This delightful theatrical confection was given a spirited production Thursday night by the Miami Beach Classical Music Festival at the Faena Forum.

Designed by famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the building is a stunning exhibition and performance space that mixes modernist and more traditional styles. The spacious main hall proved remarkably adaptable to operatic performance. Deploying a large and wide stage and improvised orchestra pit, the sound was clear with instrumental details razor sharp. After some initial balance problems, orchestral and vocal proportions were quickly righted and the voices came through with vivid immediacy.

The tale of an English market town ruled by the super-virtuous Lady Billows and her friendly public officials who declare that none of the young girls in the village are morally fit to be their annual May Queen, the opera is a pointed social satire of hypocritical British mores. The town fathers turn to the dim-witted but good-hearted Albert to be their May King instead. When his friends Sid and Nancy spike his drink at the festivities, the drunken Albert runs away for a night of debauched revelry. When he returns and relates his adventures, the townsfolk are shocked but Albert is liberated and stands up to his puritanical and domineering mother.

The scenario is slight but Marc Callahan’s riotously funny production plays Herring for all the laughs it is worth. With just a few chairs, tables and platforms as props and Paulina Lozano’s brightly colorful costumes, Callahan’s deftly paced staging moves between Lady Billows’ home, Mrs. Herring’s store, the May festivities and a moonlit street seamlessly. The singers join in moving the set pieces during the orchestral interludes.

Conductor Steve Gathman led the excellent student ensemble with energetic verve. He brought out the wit of the lopsided march that opens Act III and kept the pace fluid, bringing out the mock pathos at Albert’s disappearance. The crucial and exposed horn solos were rendered with precision.

In the title role, Robert Kopf was a real discovery. Combining a dulcet light tenor with keen theatrical instincts, Kopf dominated all of his scenes. Looking ridiculous and tongue tied in his May King hat and uniform, he epitomized bewilderment at the gathering of village big wigs. His drunken scene was hilarious, sung with subtlety and clear English diction in Eric Crozier’s often daft wordplay. Albert’s monologue of his wild night out was delivered with abandon and vocal power and authority, befitting Albert’s newfound confidence.

Benjamin Elliot and Kim Stanish as Albert’s friends Sid and Nancy had real chemistry, alternately romantic and playful. Elliot’s plush baritone and vibrant personality were nicely complemented by Stanish’s charming demeanor and attractive mezzo timbre. 

Rachel Silverstein was imperious and fierce as Lady Billiows, her edge and power at the top appropriate for Billows’ declaration that the village had become Sodom and Gomorrah. Eleni Stratigos had the firm mezzo bottom and grouchy persona for Billows’ housekeeper Florence Pike.

Heather Morrison’s high coloratura soprano runs in the role of the starchy school teacher Miss Wordsworth brightened up the stage in more ways than one. As Mrs. Herring, Olivia Gray was youthful and surprisingly sympathetic with an attractive voice to match. 

Tenor Elijah Brown proved a scene stealer as Mr. Upfold, the town mayor. Singing and dancing his way through a ditty worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan, he exuded showbiz chops. Andres Losada’s rich bass encompassed police Superintendent Budd’s proclamations and Eric Luis Viñas had the solid baritone, solemn bearing and probity for the vicar Mr. Gedge. Leah Huber, Isabel O’Hagan and Anabelle Calles were a lively trio as the mischievous children.

While deceptively simple on the surface, Albert Herring is a multifaceted and musically complex score. The festival’s opening-night cast and production were fully equal to its demands. There is one remaining performance with a partially alternate cast and it is free to the public.

The Miami Beach Classical Music Festival repeats Albert Herring 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Faena Forum, 3301 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.


 On Saturday night the production’s second cast brought their own distinctive musical and theatrical characterizations to Britten’s comedic masterpiece. In the title role, Mac Atkinson displayed an agile character tenor and the ability to make Albert’s repressed emotions come alive. He projected the grocery worker’s sadness at being attached to his mother’s unyielding strings at his initial appearance. His embarrassment at speeches praising Albert’s purity at the May King celebration was manifest and Atkinson’s wonderfully varied dynamic range in the drunken scene rose to a volatile climax as he resolved to throw caution to the wind and explore life’s wilder temptations. Albert’s final narrative about his night of debauched revelry was rendered with deft lightness and rhythmic acuity.
Gabrielle Haigh was a younger Lady Billows who was sly and conniving. She sang the role of the village’s moral matriarch with subtlety, finally letting loose in stentorian tones during Billows’ pean to Albert’s alleged virtues being equal to King and country. Rayna Campbell made the school teacher Miss Wordsworth a larger-than-life figure. Her radiant soprano commanded attention throughout the performance. As Mrs. Herring, Albert’s mother, Hannah Minner proved a splendid singing actress. Strident in her initial encounter as her son refused to accept the honor and money that the town fathers were bestowing upon him, she turned grandly tragic, singing at half voice, when she believed his disappearance meant he was dead.
As Nancy, Meagan Brilleslyper’s rich mezzo timbre was infused with deep feeling in her aria regretting playing the trick of spiking his drink and her duos with Benjamin Elliot’s Sid were a delight. Juliet Telford played Florence Pike as Lady Billows on steroids, her poweful voice rising to righteous indignation at the slightest suggestion of moral deviance. Russell Spence brought youthful vigor and a fine lyric tenor to the mayor Mr. Upfold.  A full house awarded cheering ovations to a cast that consistently offered rousing teamwork and a real flair for the work’s faux drama.

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Fri Jul 16, 2021
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