The clarity of English Touring Opera's new production of Britten's Albert Herring throws up some disturbing questions.
Director Christopher Rolls presides over a wonderful ensemble presentation, so clear in diction, of the composer's affectionate portrait of life in a bumbling Suffolk village (how different from the hate-ridden community of the Suffolk-based Peter Grimes of only two years earlier), and his vision is complemented by the ensemble's tight unfolding of the score, together with the amazing Aurora Orchestra, under Michael Rosewell.
But so intelligent is this production that it actually draws attention to flaws within the opera itself. Some have praised it as "Rossinian" in its pacing, but in fact the pace sags disastrously in the last two acts, not helped by Guy Hoare's dark lighting and the cliche of having characters running from side to side helter-skelter behind Neil Irish's grid-like walled set indicative of the cage in which the maternally-oppressed Albert feels himself trapped.
And the music, so deftly delivered, unfortunately draws attention to the archness of the composer -- prim counterpoint contradicting the vernacular of Eric Crozier's chatty libretto, smart-alec references to Verdi, Wagner, even Britten himself - though the Purcellian ground-bass to "In the midst of life is death" is one of Britten's greatest achievements. And Rolls doesn't help by giving us a Cosi fan Tutte moment, disturbing for all concerned, when the emancipated Albert does a tonsil-tango with his best friend's girlfriend (a more agreeable kiss had come with the one Albert bestows on his hectoring mother after putting her firmly in her place).
Nancy, the wench in question, was persuasively portrayed by Martha Jones, and among the other treasurable performances were Rosie Aldridge's fussy, gossipy Florence Pike and Anna-Clare Monk's totally well-drawn schoolteacher, Miss Wordsworth.
Crowning everything, however, was the totally engaging Albert Herring of Mark Wilde. Never mind his mellifluously fluent singing skills; his depiction of this put-upon lad progressing through debauchery to self-assertion was both comic and moving, and I'm sure we would all have liked to have taken him home.