Two Tyrants and a May Queen called Albert!

Two tyrants and a ‘May Queen’ called Albert figure in three operas being staged at this year’s Buxton Festival, which has undergone a slight name change: Buxton International Festival, 7th to the 23rd of July.

All three are comparative rarities on the opera stage. In frequency terms, on a scale working down to zero, they are Britten’s Albert Herring, Mozart’s Lucio Silla and Verdi’s Macbeth.

Hold on, you exclaim! The Verdi opera is regularly encountered!

Not this one! – see Hail, Macbeth! – Mark 1! @ www.bernardleemusic.com

Although the Mozart and Britten operas have been gaining performance currency in recent years, especially the latter, there is little danger of either trickle developing into a deluge!

Penned by the 16-year-old Mozart, Lucio Silla is an opera seria with a veritable procession of florid, virtuoso arias and lasts a heck of a long time in its entirety. The premiere in 1772 apparently lasted around seven hours, although it was swelled with non-Mozart ballet scenes!

When it is performed, it is invariably cut. Buxton Festival’s outing, a co-production with the renowned English Concert, will probably run upwards of three hours with an interval.

So what is usually reckoned as Mozart’s ‘coming of age opera’ all about? Well you may ask!

Silla rules ancient Rome as a dictator and is in love with Giunia. He spends most of his time working out to force her to marry him. Giunia is betrothed to the banished senator Cecilio and they mostly pine for each other while venting hate for Silla.

Silla’s sister, Celia, shares a reciprocal love with Cecilio’s friend and ally Cinna who resolves to assassinate Silla. When he confesses his intended plan at the end, Silla’s response is to offer Cinna the hand of Celia in marriage after reconciling Giunia and Cecilio.

Confused? It is!

After spending more than seven-eighths of the proceedings in tyrant-mode, Silla miraculously transforms into a good guy without warning and abdicates in the process!

Tenor Joshua Ellicott takes the title role in what looks a strongly cast Buxton production which gets four performances during the festival and is sung in Italian with English side titles.

Except for Ben Thapa (another tenor) in a small role, everyone else is a soprano: respectively, Rebecca Bottone and Fflur Wyn as Giunia and Celia, with Madeleine Pierard and Karolína Plicková in ‘trouser’ parts, Cecilio and Cinna – an alleged castrato at the opera’s premiere!

The more densely cast Albert Herring has a number of well-known names in its ranks, including Yvonne Howard, Heather Shipp (who has a recital in the festival), Mary Hegarty and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, a fine tenor how seemingly plying his trade in character parts.

Because village elders cannot find a suitable May Queen, they decide to have a May King. The greengrocer’s timid son Albert Herring (Bradley Smith) is declared entirely fitting, although not exactly ecstatic when told.

At the crowning, his lemonade is laced with rum. Asked to make a speech, he is tongue-tied, drains his lemonade glass, followed by a fit of hiccups and manages to get out ‘hip, hip, hurrah!’

Later, fed up with being under his mother’s thumb and a figure of ridicule, he takes his ‘monarch’s’ prize money and vanishes into the night.

Returning next day during a search for him, he thanks the fuming elders for financing his drunken night out, and tells Mrs Herring where to get off!

Completed a century after Macbeth, in 1947, Eric Crozier’s libretto was based on a Maupassant novella transplanted in England and is in keeping with of one Britten’s trademark character themes, that of society’s reaction to an odd person out.

Unlike Peter Grimes, Owen Wingrave and others, though, this examination is from a humorous and generally cheerful standpoint, lengthy laments for the missing Albert aside!

 

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