Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Celebrating Liberation (on Benjamin Britten's opera Albert Herring)
Eric Crozier (text, based on a story by Guy de Maupassant), Benjamin Britten (composer) Albert Herring / the performance I saw was at the LAOpera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, March 11, 2012
The opera begins with the meeting of these important city figures, attempting to decide upon which young woman they will bestow this year's award. As they run through each of their lists, however, it becomes apparent from Florence's diary that none of the village girls is above recrimination, even though some crimes are no more important than where they wear the hems of their dress. Others have stayed out all night in barns, run off with boyfriends, or simply been gossiped about. In distress, the quintet struggles about their inability to make a choice until one of their members suggests a May King, all ultimately agreeing that the only choice can be Albert Herring, a woman shopkeeper's son, who has been carefully obedient to his mother. There is also a sizeable purse attached to the award, which pleases Albert's mother far more than he when the group announce their choice.
At first Albert is seen as simply a do-gooder, with no personality whatsoever. But by the second scene of Act I, we begin to see him question his allegiance to obedience, and, comparing himself with the fun-loving and sexually busy couple, Sid and Nancy, realizing that he has nothing to show for remaining a mother's boy.
Putting Albert on display, the town leaders could care less about Albert's feelings or any reality he might be experiencing within, dressing him in white and awarding him an absurdly orange wreath, which he is forced to wear throughout the luncheon. But Sid has other plans for Albert, with Nancy spiking Albert's lemonade with rum, an event which begins a series of adventures for our "hero" that ends, after another self-analysis of his life, with Albert going off into the evening to discover the life he has never before experienced.
Conductor James Conlon argues that the exact nature of his transgressions must remain vague. And probably that was what Britten also intended. But we must remember that, although he lived much of his life as an open homosexual, for Britten it might have difficult to more thoroughly explore the issue in small town life of 1947. Today, I would have, at least, liked a little more of the possibility of Arthur exploring something beyond heterosexual experiences. For that might even have made him a kind of exceptional figure in Loxford history.
As it stands, Albert is simply a slow learner, a man who waited far too long to come to terms with any sexuality. Perhaps if we understood it as an truly exceptional sexual variance, we might be better able to explain Albert's slow awakening instead of merely explaining him as a kind of village simpleton or, as several characters describe him, not very bright. Let us hope at least that after his night of revelry he does not remain as a greengrocer for the rest of his life!
Los Angeles, March 13, 2012