What better way to spend the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, which fell on Friday, than listening to one of his operas? They are the height of the British composer’s achievement, although “Albert Herring” is somewhere down the list of his best works. It received a charming production by the Maryland Opera Studio at the Clarice Smith Center, directed by Kasi Campbell, with a cast, like most fielded by collegiate companies, that was varied but earnest.
“Writing in a language with no operatic tradition to speak of,” tenor Ian Bostridge noted of Britten this week, “he wrote the only substantial body of operatic work since 1945 which is regularly revived and appreciated around the world.” The success has to do with Britten’s ability to set English words to music, his choice of excellent literary sources and a melodic and harmonic sensibility that is, for the 20th century, more alluring than off-putting.
“Albert Herring,” a comic opera, concerns a hero alienated from society, a timid young man chosen as his town’s May King when no young woman meets the demanding moral criteria. Recent interpretations of the opera question why Albert has remained inexperienced for so long — perhaps his eye is not for the local girl but for his friend Sid — something at which this staging only hinted.
A standout performance came from tenor Patrick Kilbride, who brought spot-on intonation and a sweet tone to the title role, matched beautifully by the forthright Sid of baritone Keith Browning and the pretty Nancy of mezzo-soprano Amanda Tittle. Soprano Madeline Cain had a lot of fun as the imperious Lady Billows, although the role’s top notes were not quite there, while undergraduate countertenor David Dickey was a stitch as Harry, a role written for a child treble. Conductor Craig Kier held together a bubbly performance in the pit, strong in the winds and horn especially.
Downey is a freelance writer.