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Albert Herring

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, March 18, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

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Having taken the operatic world by storm with his shatteringly tragic masterpiece Peter Grimes in 1945, Britten followed it only two years later with Albert Herring, a light-hearted, gently ironic comedy. The two operas, though obviously different, share certain elements--notably the locale, a small English village, where both protagonists are treated as social misfits by the meddlesome, class- and moral-obsessed inhabitants. But unlike Peter Grimes, whom the villagers ultimately destroy, Albert Herring asserts himself and breaks free. Librettist Eric Crozier regards the characters with humor and affection, and Britten's music captures the essence of each personality perfectly; through his masterful evocation of color, mood, and atmosphere, the 12 instruments become part of the action, laughing and chuckling at and with the characters. The story concerns the village elders' failure to find a girl virtuous enough to be crowned May Queen, so a May King is proposed: the innocent, somewhat simple-minded Albert, his mother's "squashed down and reined in" drudge. After drinking a secretly spiked lemonade, he rebels and, furious at being made a laughing-stock, vanishes, plunging the village into panic and despair. When he suddenly returns, muddy and disheveled, and the people turn on him, he defies them--to the older ones' fury and the young ones' delight. The opera abounds with beguilingly lovely melodies in simple children's songs, arias, duets, and ensembles, culminating in a "Threnody" lamenting Albert's disappearance. There are many echoes of Grimes, and Albert is represented by a horn call reminiscent of the one in Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings; he even whistles it as he runs off. The performance is beyond praise; Bastow and Finlay are outstanding, as are the instrumental soloists. Written for Peter Pears, all Britten's tenor parts are haunted by the memory of his voice and style, but Gillett makes Albert his own, vocally and dramatically. Note that libretto is not included. --Edith Eisler
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Product Details

  • Performer: Josephine Barstow, Felicity Palmer
  • Orchestra: Northern Sinfonia
  • Conductor: Steuart Bedford
  • Composer: Benjamin Britten
  • Audio CD (March 18, 2003)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Naxos Opera
  • ASIN: B000083O1D
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,708 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 28, 2003
Format: Audio CD
This is a budget-priced reissue on Naxos of the performance of 'Albert Herring' previously available from the now-defunct Collins Classics, originally issued in 1997. It features a stellar cast including Josephine Barstow who has owned the role of Lady Billows for perhaps twenty years, Felicity Palmer as the redoubtable Florence Pike, silvery-voiced Susan Gritton as Miss Wordsworth, Robert Lloyd as a lovably inarticulate Superintendent Budd, and Della Jones as Albert's mother, Mrs Herring. The young lovers, Sid and Nancy, are expertly sung and acted by Gerald Finley and Ann Taylor. Perhaps most important of all, Christopher Gillett is a youthful-sounding and increasingly rebellious Albert.
I have known and loved this opera ever since the original recording with Britten conducting and Peter Pears as a somewhat superannuated Albert. Obviously that set, which is still available, has its virtues. I have also seen three productions, including one at Covent Garden that was superb at least partly because the cast had been drilled in East Suffolk accents that had the British audience in stitches. I have not heard the recent recording on Chandos conducted by Richard Hickox.
This recording is a real treasure. Even though the Naxos reissue does not include a libretto - as is customary with most of their opera releases - the diction of most of the singers is exemplary and one has little difficulty understanding the witty dialog written by one of Britten's favorite and most skillful librettists, Eric Crozier.
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Format: Audio CD
This charming opera is an ironic look at social repression and innocence. Based on a Guy de Maupassant story, Albert Herring is the story of a simple village boy who breaks out of the constraints imposed by his controlling mother and the village elders. The libretto is written with a gently ironic plot and witty dialogue. The music is both lovely and clever. Britten assigns each major character music consonant with his or her character and there is some really impressive ensemble singing. The quality of this performance is excellent. The individual singers are all excellent and the ensemble singing is first rate. A real must for anyone who likes Britten.
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Format: Audio CD
This opera is inspired – adapted they say – from a short story by Guy de Maupassant, “Madame Husson’s Rosier,” and do not make the simple mistake to believe this Madame Husson is a Madame. She is an old spinster or maybe old widow, rich enough to believe she can change the world by buying the soul of a young virginal man to make him her virtuous mascot for the whole village or city. She is enslaved to the local Catholic priest, not physically of course not, not emotionally of course not, not sensually either of course not. But she is kneeling in front of Jesus and God, she is in full mesmerism when the priest speaks, and yet Maupassant cannot escape his anti-catholic blockage and he turns that virtue, that cultish adoration of virtue for all into ridicule and the satire, the caustic debunking of this fundamentalist Catholic hatred of life and pleasure is as hot as hell and burning bright in what he considers the night of religious faith if not dependence, the opium of the people, as you know. We are in 1887, the famous Third Republic, the Republic of the Jules (and there are many of them: Jules Favre, Jules Grévy, Jules Simon and Jules Ferry, the Three Musketeers who were four of course), a republic that was anti-religious first of all, and becoming more and more urban minded if not Paris-centered, considering the provinces as some underdeveloped Purgatory if not Hell, because these anti-religious politicians kept the concepts of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell, just as if they were natural continents on the planet Earth.Read more ›
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Format: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
While I am not a fan of Britten, the product was great for what I needed it for. I'm cast in the opera, and needed an adequate recording. This is actually a fantastic recording for practice purposes. The singing is very clear and understandable, and as it was easy to download as an mp3 album, I'm very happy with how it turned out.
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Format: Audio CD
This is about as good a recording of Britten's charming and amusing "Albert Herring" as we are ever likely to find. The conductor, cast and orchestra (such as it is) are all very fine and perfectly suited to the needs of the piece. The sound reproduction is fully up to contemporary digital standards.

Benjamin Britten purposely set out to create a lightweight comedy opera. He succeeded quite nicely. Overall, "Albert Herring" makes demands on its performers about equal to those of Willson's "The Music Man." It, of course, lacks the strength, wit and brilliance of the American masterpiece, but who could seriously expect such things from Britten?
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