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Opera Review: 'Albert Herring' at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

March 15, 2012 | 12:51 pm

Christine Brewer performs on stage.
Aficionados of big voices have been waiting for Christine Brewer to appear in a Los Angeles Opera production for a long time.  Indeed, there were a couple of occasions where she was dangled tantalizingly before us, singing song recitals somewhere in town while Wagner’s “Ring” operas -- her natural habitat -- were playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. 

But Brewer’s LA Opera debut finally came Wednesday night in a most unorthodox way -- slipping into the cast of Britten’s chamber opera “Albert Herring” toward the end of its run.  That’s right -- a chamber opera, and a comedy at that, written for an ensemble cast of equals. 

Fortunately, Brewer’s part -- that of the lordly arbiter of small-town morals, Lady Billows (which she sang in the Santa Fe edition of this production in 2010) --  can sort of lend itself to a Wagnerian soprano. Britten used one, Sylvia Fisher, on his own recording of “Herring.” 

So with more than a hint of self-parody, and maybe a bit of “The Mikado’s” Katisha, Brewer’s battle-axe of a Lady Billows stalked the stage with a mostly sour expression, rolling her Rs with relish, her diction easily intelligible. She seemed to be doing her best to rein herself in so as not to dominate the vocal ensembles -- which worked pretty well -- carefully unleashing her power in appropriate passages of solo pomposity. She was a focal point, but not to the point where the balances were capsized.

As later performances in a run often do, this “Herring” looked and sounded even snappier than the one on opening night, with conductor James Conlon characterizing each note more sharply and comically than ever. One also can’t discount the galvanizing effect that the formidable Brewer’s presence might have had.  When Brewer’s Lady Billows spit out the word “whip!” and the cast flinched, it didn’t feel like acting; it was more like a natural response to a force of nature.

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 -- Richard S. Ginell         

 Los Angeles Opera in Britten’s “Albert Herring”: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; Saturday, 2 p.m; $20-$270; (213) 972-8001 or www.laopera.com.  Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes.

 Photo: Christine Brewer in "Albert Herring." Credit: Robert Millard.

 

 


 
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