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Opera entertains this weekend

Jan. 28, 2010

Courtesy Photo
Katherine Dulweber (Mum/Mrs. Herring), Senior; Jacob Fulcher (Albert), graduate student will perform "Albert Herring" at 7:30 p.m. today in Jones Theatre.

By James Byers

If gossip, scandal and sexual frustration aren't themes that students normally associate with opera, then they haven't seen "Albert Herring."

They'll have that chance when "Albert Herring, " presented by Baylor Opera Theater, opens at 7:30 p.m. today in Jones Theatre, located within Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. Performances are also scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 3 p.m.

"I can't imagine somebody coming to this and not enjoying it," said Dr. Michael Johnson, director of Baylor Opera.

"Albert Herring," set in the Victorian-era English town of Loxford, was written by Benjamin Britten and premiered in 1947. Lady Billows, the town matriarch, is in charge of selecting a May Queen for the annual May Festival. Lady Billows has such lofty standards that even a hint of sexual impropriety is enough to disqualify any girl. Unable to find a single girl with a clean reputation, Lady Billows is instead forced to crown a May King, Albert Herring, who is less than thrilled to be declared a virgin.

Johnson said students will laugh at the stereotyped characters and exaggerated situations.

"Students will get a kick out of the whole premise," Johnson said. "We still live in a society where a girl's reputation is more easily stained than a guy's. It's funny in that British humor sort of way."

Though the opera is in English, a screen above the stage will display the dialogue so that audience members can keep up with the subtle humor and fast-paced singing.

Johnson designed the sets, which include antique furniture in Lady Billows' drawing room and a colorful painted backdrop of the town square.

"I'm much more pleased with the sets this year," Johnson said. "We spent less money, but the result is that this looks like a really high-quality college production."

Several of the characters in the opera have been double cast, meaning that one student will play a character one night, and another student will play that same character the next night. Johnson said this gives more students a chance to perform.

"Our singers are among the best in Texas," Johnson said. "It's important for us to be able to provide a number of performance opportunities for those singers."

Leah Michael, a graduate student from Dayton, Ohio, will play Lady Billows on Thursday and Saturday. Michael said the cast of "Albert Herring" has been rehearsing diligently since the beginning of the fall semester.

"We've become one with our characters," she said.

The 12-piece Baylor Opera Orchestra will provide music throughout the three-hour performance. Stephen Heyde, Mary Franks Thompson professor of orchestral activities and conductor-in-residence, said the music of "Albert Herring" is both clever and challenging.

"Every single person in the Opera Orchestra has an important solo at some time or another," Heyde said. "It's a challenge for anybody, even a professional musician, to play that long and stay focused. But I'm really proud of what they've done. They're terrific."

Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults. For more information, call the theater department box office at 710-1865.