ALBERT HERRING AT CCM

 

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Benjamin Britten wrote the roles in his operas for specific singers with whom he loved to work, foremost among them the tenor Peter Pears, who was in the original cast of Albert Herring, one of several Britten’s chamber operas that were produced by the English Opera Group in its early days. I bet Mr. Britten would have loved working with the cast of the Opera d’Arte production of his one comic opera.

Its feather-light plot concerns the May Day celebrations about to be held in Loxford, a Sussex backwater. A search for a virgo intacta to be the May Day Queen proves futile when all the village girls are found wanting in the…ahem…virginal department. Enter celibate, Mama’s boy, Albert Herring, and a motion is put forth to make him the May Day King. What ensues over the next couple of acts is a comic coming of age story. No spoiler to tell you that Albert disappears with his twenty-five quid prize only to return after a night of drunken revelry to finally assert his budding manhood and his raging hormones much to the consternation of the uptight townsfolk.

The music of this opera is not a walk in the village park. Lots of tricky passages abound, quotes of   everybody from Bach to Wagner fly by, and the orchestration for a dozen instruments – one to a part – is inventive and requires top-notch musicians to make it work. Jesse Leong proved his mettle as a conductor, leading the excellent opening night cast and the terrific orchestra with a firm hand and a very good instinct for accompanying singers.

Kenneth Shaw staged the work with finesse and a light touch that did not shy away from the underlying theme of this opera: the loneliness of those who are different from the pack, as personified by the painfully shy, secretly randy and tongue-tied Albert, sung here by the very fine tenor, Gregory Miller.

In the cast of over a dozen promising young singers, Maria Miller in the role of battle-ax Lady Billows commanded the stage with her comical timing and substantial soprano, Nancy and Sid were respectively sung and acted to perfection by mezzo-soprano, Brianna Bragg and baritone, Haydn Smith, and Elena Villalon was a charming Miss Wordsworth, with a high soprano voice that rode the top line in the ensembles with great ease.

The flexible set by Olivia Leigh, the costumes loaned to this production by Costume Gallery and the lighting by Marissa Childress, gave this Albert Herring an authentic English, turn-of-the-century look.

With Albert Herring, Kenneth Shaw’s Opera d’Arte again proves itself an indispensable member of the Cincinnati opera scene. There are two more performances, one on Saturday February 4 at 8 pm and one on Sunday 5, at 2 pm. They are sold out, BUT chances are that some folks who reserved the free tickets won’t show up. If you cannot get in, you might be able to catch something else at the same time at CCM, the Music Conservatory that never sleeps.

Rafael de Acha

 

JAMES MEADE’S GUITAR SINGS

 

533eb8_712e602bcd384066aada74cfabb54f62Music criticism or, for that matter, any writing about music is at its best when it happens spontaneously. For me there’s nothing mysterious in writing about music: I simply try to put into words what I hear and what my immediate response is to it. And so is the case with my written response to guitarist James Meade enchanting debut album, Canción, the Spanish word for song.

In the  first five tracks of this  sampler of Romantic Spanish music for the guitar, James Meade lets his guitar literally sing the melancholy melodies of Francisco Tárrega, the Catalan guitar virtuoso who coaxed his instrument out of Madrid’s 19th century cafes and bars and into the forefront of concert instruments.

Tárrega’s music is not all about Spanish fire and passion. His titles indicate a different Spain from that depicted in travel brochures – this is a Spain with deep roots in the Moorish culture that permeated that country’s history for hundreds of years, echoing the Spanish saying, “Africa begins in the Pyrenees.”

Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra), Marieta, Danza Mora, Mazurka and Estudio Brillante (Brilliant Study) are given exquisite readings by James Meade, so intensely concentrated on the emotional content of the music that one is apt to overlook the technical hurdles that this musician is surmounting with unflappable ease.

Manuel de Falla – Andalusian by birth and temperament – distilled all that is quintessentially Spanish into his music, integrating into his compositions a sensibility refined by seven years in Paris during which he assimilated much of what Debussy and Ravel were all about. Thus one can hear in tracks 6 through 9 of Canción, the sound of the mature de Falla in the agile hands of guitarist James Meade: the Song of the Will O’ the Wisp (from the ballet El Amor Brujo – Love, the Magician), the Fisherman’s Story (from the ballet, Pantomima) and a third dance, Dance of the Miller (from the ballet The Three-Cornered Hat).

It was very pleasantly surprising to be introduced via this CD to the music of Agustín Barrios Mangoré. Born in 1885, the Paraguayan composer pioneered the bilingual culture of his native country by infusing much of his music with the sounds of the Guarani folk songs with which he grew up. In the last track in this album, James Meade plays Barrios’ A Dream in the Forest magically, bringing this debut CD to a hypnotic ending.

Throughout the album, the young Cincinnati guitarist James Meade amply demonstrates impeccable musicianship, profound musicality and a complete technical command of his instrument. Those qualities, married to the straightforward engineering and lovely packaging of Canción, augur well for the future of the career of this artist.

The album may be purchased directly from the artist at www.JamesMeadeGuitar.com

James Meade plays Francisco Tárrega’s Estudio Brillante (Brilliant Study) https://youtu.be/5RPzrOEOecg

Photograph www.nataliejenkinsphotography.com