Shadwell Opera at Holland Park – Britten’s Albert Herring

Albert Herring – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Eric Crozier based on Guy de Maupassant’s story Le Rosier de Madame Husson

Albert Herring – Sam Furness
Sid – Gareth John
Nancy – Amy Lyddon
Mrs Herring – Anna Harvey
Lady Billows – Isabella Gage
Florence Pike – Eleanor Minney
Miss Wadsworth – Maud Millar
Mr Gedge – Christopher Dollins
Mr Upfold – David de Winter
Superintendent Budd – George Dye
Emmie – Harriet Colley
Harry – Pollyanna Furness

Conducted by Christopher Stark and Directed by Jack Furness

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 24 July, 2011
Venue: Yucca Lawn, Holland Park, Kensington, London

Albert Herring, Shadwell OperaA new innovation this year, Opera Holland Park’s “etcetera” fringe offers a welcome forum to upcoming groups. There seems to have been a plethora of small-scale opera companies springing up in recent years, most with minimal sets and featuring talented young professionals; the members of Shadwell Opera are younger than most – the group having been started in 2009 by undergraduates at Cambridge University, and continues to be made up of students or recent graduates. The singers generally demonstrated impressive vocal abilities in this performance of Albert Herring, but their youth was a drawback in an opera populated by vividly drawn village personalities. A few more years’ theatrical experience is probably needed for them to bring their roles to life (most of their biographies are so devoted to choral and oratorio/concert work). Consequently a lot Britten’s sparkling comedy, which relies on bold and often mature characterisation, was lost: there were disappointingly few laughs. The story was clearly conveyed, however, and the emotional scenes in Act Three carried genuine weight – especially the moving threnody around the missing-presumed-dead Herring’s wreath.

The best performance was Sam Furness’s of the title role: his look of perplexed misery at his May King crowning ceremony, dressed in shining white suit, was delightful; and his drunken awakening monologue was well-delivered, managing to be both funny and poignant. One of the more well-rounded voices, Amy Lyddon’s Nancy was sympathetically portrayed.

The company’s “proudly proclaimed commitment” to presenting operas with their full orchestration can’t be easy in these cash-strapped times, so Britten’s chamber-ensemble operas are an ideal choice. The excellent musicians, also Cambridge students, formed a superbly alert ensemble under the direction of Christopher Stark.

On its own terms, as essentially a high-end student production, this enjoyable and musically strong performance was a very pleasant way to spend a sunny summer’s afternoon. There was certainly a convivial atmosphere among the picnickers beneath the shade of the trees of Holland Park’s Yucca Lawn. Shadwell Opera can’t yet rival the similarly-resourced likes of Opera Up Close’s dramatically compelling The Turn of the Screw, currently at The King’s Head theatre, Islington, and featuring some first-class voices. But this enterprising young company should be justly proud of its achievements so far, not least for introducing good-quality opera to a wider audience and – to that end – for its laudable commitment to performances in English. On its current trajectory it has the potential to attain greater artistic results.

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