Comic opera ‘Albert Herring’ to bring shenanigans to Ford Center stage

Posted on Apr 21 2017 - 8:00am by Jonathan Gibson

This weekend, prepare to see hi-jinx, tomfoolery and debauchery run rampant in Benjamin Britten’s  fictional town of Loxford, England.

When one thinks of opera, a large, blond-haired woman in a Viking helmet singing loud arias in a foreign language probably comes to mind. Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring,” presented by the University of Mississippi opera program, may not match up with the stereotypes.

The show revolves around Albert Herring, a timid, sheltered young man who works at the town shop.

“There have been some shenanigans,” Ashley Ashmore, who plays the housekeeper Florence Pike, said. “And the women are not as pure as they’re supposed to be.”

The town decides only one person in town meets the qualifications for the annual May Queen, an honor bestowed on the most virtuous girl in town. The only problem is that he’s a boy: Albert Herring.

Albert is thoroughly embarrassed at being honored for his virginal qualities, and he decides to do something about it.

“I don’t want to give away the ending,” Ashmore said. “But he goes out on a little romp, and what ensues is just hilarious.”

This is Ashmore’s second opera performance with the university, and she has been involved in both the band and choral departments at the university her entire time as a student.

“It’s been a lot of fun performing so far,” Ashmore said. “It’s great getting into a different period and different place.”

The show is light-hearted and silly, very accessible even to a first-time operagoer, Ashmore said.

“The show is in English, and theoretically that means you should be able to understand us,” Ashmore said, laughing. “We’re working on that. It’s a good thing. You don’t have that language barrier.”

She said the comedic nature of the show and its larger-than-life characters help make the show enjoyable and entertaining, even if viewers don’t necessarily understand everything that’s going on.

Cody Arthur, who plays Albert Herring in the show, said he didn’t really know what to expect when he took on the role, but doing it has been rewarding.

“This style of music is much, much harder to learn than, say, your standard Mozart or Verdi,” Arthur said. “It’s way out there. It’s been a bigger challenge than I was expecting originally.”

Arthur said one of his favorite moments of the show is when he walks onstage drunk and says everything that’s on his mind for the first time.

“That’s when you get to see his real thoughts on everything,” Arthur said. “The audience gets even more insight into his brain in this moment. It’s funny to get to play that up as much as possible and explore all the different possibilities.”

Arthur said students can prepare themselves to better enjoy the show by reading a synopsis before seeing it.

“I always read the synopsis before I see a show, sometimes two because they can be vague, so that I have an idea of what’s going on,” Arthur said. “This opera is a comedy, so be prepared to laugh.”

The show runs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at the UM Box Office in the Ford Center, and prices vary by seating section. Discounted student tickets are also available.