Albert Herring


Albert Herring

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Since its première at Glyndebourne in 1947, Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring has become a classic comprising a keenly observed, witty libretto and an evocative score.

The comic depiction of a parochial English village springs to life with vivid characters, psychological truths and undertones of melancholy.

The story describes the election by committee of a shy local lad in a grocer’s shop as May King – a title ordinarily awarded to a virtuous girl as May Queen – but no one in the village can match the exacting standards of virtue held by Lady Billows.

Naturally enough, the crowning of the May King doesn’t go to plan and Albert, an unusually backward boy, strays far from the path of virtue.  

The splendid production, originally directed by John Cox and designed by Roger Butlin in 1976, is seldom performed but it remains an absorbing, hugely resonant satire about mob mentality and judgement.

It is a fine-tuned vehicle for bravura singers with a flair for comedy.

The sparks are sure to fly when Kanen Breen (Albert Herring) and Jacqueline Dark (Lady Billows) make their role debuts alongside a vibrant cast that includes Roxane Hislop, Dominica Matthews, Michael Lewis and Conal Coad. Opera Australia’s associate music director Anthony Legge conducts.

Conductor Anthony Legge
Director John Cox
Set & Costume Designer Roger Butlin
Lighting Designer Nigel Levings
Rehearsal Director  Matthew Barclay
Albert Herring Kanen Breen
Lady Billows Jacqueline Dark
Nancy Sian Pendry
Florence Pike Dominica Matthews
Ms Wordsworth Elvira Fatykhova
Vicar Gedge Michael Lewis
Mayor Upfold John Longmuir
Superintendent Budd Conal Coad
Mrs Herring Roxane Hislop
Sid Samuel Dundas

Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra

Running time: Approximately two and a half hours including one twenty-minute interval.


Scene i    Lady Billows’ house

Lady Billows is anxious to revive the May Day celebrations she remembers from her childhood, and to raise the moral standards of the village. She summons a Committee to elect a May Queen. None of the suggested candidates stands up to the scrutiny of Florence Pike, her housekeeper. In desperation Superintendent Budd proposes a May King in the person of Albert Herring, a slightly simple but undeniably virtuous village youth.

Scene ii 

In their greengrocery store, Albert and his mother are informed of the celebrations and the 25 pounds prize. Albert attempts rebellion, which is firmly quelled by his mother.


Scene i    Inside a marquee

In the last-minute preparations for the Festival Sid and Nancy, Albert’s friends, are bent on promoting his emancipation. They put rum in Albert’s lemonade. The welcome ode, speeches, and toast go more or less as planned. Albert is thoroughly miserable until he has tasted the lemonade – which cheers him considerably!

Scene ii 

Albert returns home to the shop after the Festival, having enjoyed himself. His restless desires are rekindled when he overhears Sid and Nancy discussing him in the street. He remembers his prize money and decides by the toss of a coin to go out in search of adventure. Mrs Herring returns and, thinking Albert is already asleep, retires to bed.


The shop, the following day
Albert has disappeared and various amateur search parties are out in pursuit. His orange-blossom crown is brought in, battered and bespattered. Taking this as the embodiment of Albert, the company assemble around it and sing a tragi-comic lament. Albert enters and their grief changes to an unfriendly inquisition. Albert reveals ‘a general sample’ of his debauchery and with growing confidence sends his neighbours about their business.
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