Preview: Albert Herring, Glyndebourne Festival, Glyndebourne

A sterling cast for a vintage production
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The Independent Culture

Inspired by the serious comedy of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, and employing the Mozartian recipe of recitatives and set numbers, Benjamin Britten's sparkling Albert Herring – which transplants a story by Guy de Maupassant to Suffolk – might have been thought the ideal chamber opera for the Glyndebourne audience for whom it was intended, but they missed the point. On the other hand, the production staged by Peter Hall for the same festival four decades later became a mainstay of its repertoire. But I doubt if it has ever had a stronger cast than the one we will see next week.

The young tenor in the title role is Allan Clayton. Garlanded at the Royal Academy with prizes, he has since made a speciality of psychologically embattled heroes, whom he discusses with perceptiveness. Tamino in The Magic Flute he finds "almost impossible to play, there seems so little to him. While he is in pursuit of something idealistic and intangible, Herring is searching for the earthy truth and is more real".

Ever since its premiere, debate has raged over the "meaning" of this work: is Albert's sexual coming-out – which marks the climax of the action – a metaphor for Britten's homosexual yearnings? Hall's production comes down firmly against this view: his Albert is just a boy needing to say no to his domineering mother, and yes to a paid-for heterosexual roll in the hay. "The opera could work just as well if Albert were played as a homosexual," says Clayton, "but it would profoundly change the spirit of the piece, and his relationship with Nancy wouldn't fit so well. On the other hand, his relationship with Sid is a tender and close one."

Shy and stumbling Albert fancies Nancy and admires swaggering Sid: when he overhears them mocking his gaucherie, he's galvanised in both word and deed. Clayton has incarnated him before, but never, he says, with this degree of immediacy. "Yesterday we were in costume for the first time, and I suddenly felt I actually was in Loxford's Mayday parade."

In repertory from 14 June to 19 July (01273 813813)

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