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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Albert Herring Production Insights

Welcome to Vancouver Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring! This is sure to be an opera experience you won’t soon forget.

This production marks a series of firsts for Vancouver Opera. This is our first production of Albert Herring (although it isn’t our first Britten piece; we presented Peter Grimes in our 1994-95 season). This production is our first co-production with Pacific Opera Victoria: the set, costumes and props were built at their shops. And, finally, this production brings two designers to the VO stage for the first time: Patrick Clark and Michael Walton. Patrick Clark designed the set, props and costumes; Michael Walton designed the lighting. Both have worked extensively in theatre across the country, including multiple seasons with the Stratford Festival, and are now making their first forays into designing for opera.

Albert Herring, “the greatest comic opera of the century” (according to Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter) has been produced by hundreds of different companies in all corners of the world since it premiered in 1947 at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, conducted by the composer himself.

One of the first things you will notice in the design of this production is the dominating presence of the colour green. Patrick Clark highlights the comedic nature of the piece and the themes of spring, young love and renewal with beautiful and varied shades of green throughout the set. The green is countered and accentuated by the use of pink in many of the costumes, most notably in the costumes for Lady Billows, but keep an eye out for the use of pink and green in many of the other costumes, too. The set is also adorned with 750 pink-hued flowers.

Like many of Britten’s works, this opera explores society’s reactions to an odd or outcast individual. Michael Walton’s lighting design does a wonderful job supporting this. In the first two acts, this theme is approached from a humorous and lighthearted perspective, conveyed by the light’s bright and warm texture. But, take note of the change in colour and temperature when Albert goes missing and subsequently returns from his night on the town.

All co-productions bring with them a certain set of challenges. The most obvious of these is that the set has to be built to fit theatres of varying sizes and shapes. The proscenium opening of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is much taller and wider than that of The Royal Theatre in Victoria. For this reason, the portals which make up much of the set were built so that their height and width could be expanded as necessary.

The Director for this show, Glynis Leyshon is exceptionally skilled at creating beautiful images or "stage pictures" that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. Note how many of the scene changes are performed a vista, which is a Latin term meaning ‘in sight’. The movement of the set pieces and performers becomes part of the action and choreography, which keeps the audience engaged through the entire performance.

The most engaging and important element of any opera is, of course, the music. Albert Herring is a musically complex and compelling work with a myriad of musical quotations within the score and a lighthearted and genuinely funny text. It has been my sincere pleasure playing a role in bringing it to the stage.

Dan Paterson is Vancouver Opera’s Technical Director.
Photos by David Cooper - courtesy Pacific Opera Victoria

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