The public-television broadcast of its production of Benjamin Britten's 1947 comic opera Albert Herring is what put Opera Theatre of St. Louis into the spotlight a few decades ago. Washington University Opera's commitment to Britten opera brought Albert Herring back to St. Louis last weekend in a genuinely musical, handsomely acted, beautifully sung revival.
The opera concerns the coronation of young Albert Herring (tenor James Harr) as the May King of Loxford, East Suffolk, England, in 1900 because no village girl is pure enough to be chosen queen. The village elders, particularly the overbearing Lady Billows (Lori Barrett-Pagano), cannot convince poor Albert to accept the honor, but his overbearing mother (Denise Stookesberry), influenced by the 25-pound purse awarded the king, bullies him into it. His friend Sid (high baritone David Cerven) and Sid's sweetheart, Nancy (Kendall Gladen), decide to make things interesting by getting Albert first tipsy, then horny. He disappears and everyone believes him dead, but he turns up, and his telling of the story of his little spree earns him freedom from his mother and a much more cheerful, open attitude toward life.
All the voices were euphonious -- I particularly admired the high, bell-like tenor of Klaus Georg, and all acted well, particularly soprano Kendra Ford as Miss Wordsworth, the schoolmistress. Diction, alas, ranged from inadequate to absolutely hopeless, especially because a great deal of Albert Herring's comedy lies in its libretto. Jolly Stewart's direction was clear and forceful, but conductor John Stewart should have moved things along at a less leisurely pace. His orchestra, on the other hand, was superb -- Cheryl Hoard's horn, for instance, was full-toned and fiercely accurate.