Florentine finds cozy home for 'Albert Herring'
If you're looking for the Florentine Opera Company, you'll find them in Vogel Hall for the next couple of weeks, trying something a little different.
Veering away from stage-filling grand opera, the company opened a lighthearted production of Benjamin Britten's chamber opera "Albert Herring" Friday evening, in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts' smallest performance space.
Directed by Florentine's general director William Florescu, the production was updated from Britten's 1900 setting to the middle of the 20th century.
The plot finds a small British community searching for a chaste local girl to crown May Queen. When none of the local girls pass muster, the group turns to a young man, Albert Herring, best described as a "mama's boy."
When Albert's lemonade is spiked during his coronation banquet, he disappears, leaving the village to assume he has died. Just as the village has reached a fevered pitch in despair, he returns. But Albert has been changed by his night of freedom.
The production's ensemble cast proved a nicely matched group of strong singers.
Tenor Rodell Rosel made both his timidity and his transformation quite believable, singing the role with a warm, focused beautifully controlled sound.
Soprano Kathy Pyeatt was a formidable character and powerful musical presence as Lady Billows. Mezzo Kathryn Leemhuis was a delightfully short-tempered housemaid, singing with warmth and focus.
Andrew Wilkowske, Jamie Offenbach, Alisa Suzanne Jordheim and Kevin Newell gave strongly sung performances that leaned just enough on caricatures to bring a dash of comedy to their roles.
Equally strong were Abigail Nims and Carl Frank, as the pranksters Nancy and Sid, who spiked Albert's lemonade, and Kristen DiNinno, as the controlling Mrs. Herring. Mikaela Schneider, Emily Pogorelc and Trevor Smith also gave well-sung, energetic performances.
Holly Payne's character-filled costumes, which included some delightful, flouncing skirts and crinolines, served to set the opera in time.
Noele Stollmack's stark set placed all of the action in front of bare, white walls, using a few metal and rolling kitchen carts to suggest changes of scene.
Conductor Christopher Larkin led the production, including an orchestra of 12 musicians. A combination of awkward logistics and uneven playing made their performance less than convincing.
IF YOU GO
The Florentine Opera Company production of "Albert Herring" runs through March 17 in Vogel Hall of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For ticket information, visit www.florentineopera.org or call (414) 291-5700, Ext. 224.