The Tab Meets: Albert Herring

DANIEL LEWIS interviews the directors behind the latest student opera before their show opens next week

CUOS director interview Opera Queens' Student

Earlier this week, we met with George Kan and Benedict Kearns, the director and musical director at the helm of CUOS’ latest offering, Albert Herring—a comic opera by Benjamin Britten set in a small market town in 1950’s Suffolk.

With just under week until the curtains go up at the Fitzpatrick Hall at Queens’, we decided to drop in on this directing duo.

They proved quite the double act.

How have you found directing this opera?

BK: It’s been a really eye-opening experience working with a lesser-known Britten score. It’s been fantastically rewarding seeing it as it’s grown and developed, especially when the drama came in after the music rehearsals.

That was a particularly exciting time, to see it actually become the opera. And putting bits together and having rehearsals with the orchestra with singers, that will be really exciting. There’s always something to look forward to.

[pause]

GK: So it’s very exciting. [wry laugh]

Have you directed any opera before?

GK: Um, no. I’m not musical. I can’t read music. I can follow it on the sheet but—Benedict’s been writing down all the things I say, like instead of the libretto I’ll say ‘singing score’.

I’ll use terms that often don’t fit and the cast laugh…

Director George Kan looking over the, um, 'speaking score'

Director George Kan looking over the, um, ‘speaking score’

You mentioned that it is a lesser-known opera. Why were you keen to put it on?

BK: Well, it’s not well-suited to big opera houses. It’s a chamber orchestra, it’s a small cast and there’s no chorus.

Also, it’s quite hard to choose a student opera because of vocal demands or length but this opera is often done by music colleges because it gives 13 people a really good sing.

So everyone has a role, gets stage time and some independence.

So would you consider this an ambitious choice?

BK: I would say it’s quite ambitious. Britten is not an easy composer. Without the drama, the score is really dense and tricky and the singers are doing amazingly well with it.

GK: Benedict is very harsh on them.

BK: Am I?

GK: My favourite note was after the end of going through a scene—he just went “30 percent more words.”

Musical director Benedict Kearns (centre) having a word with the cast

Musical director Benedict Kearns (centre) having a word with the cast 

Why do you think this opera will appeal to a Cambridge audience? 

GK: For me, when we were choosing possible operas, Benedict and our producer would come up with ideas and I would sit and watch a YouTube version of them to see if I liked it or not…

BK: He saw loads of operas.

GK: …and Britten was one I could do, I think.

I mean, for people who aren’t opera fanatics I think Britten is more approachable – it’s a little more theatrical, more dynamic.

BK: George’s original desires for the opera were 1) it had to be really dark and 2) it had to have chorus. And now, we’re doing a comedy with no chorus.

GK: But in fact, Albert Herring is quite dark, quite melodramatic. When it’s being sad, I think it’s at its funniest in a way.

And the other thing is that it’s in English and not a translation and it’s a quite recent opera which might be good thing for people who aren’t that used to opera.

Are there any themes that might chime with students?

BK: Well, as with a lot of Britten, it deals with the individual against society…

GK: Outcast! Adolescent! Puberty! Young love! [laughs]

BK: Anyone can relate to it…

GK: Also, it is set in a little fictional village called Loxford and I think we’re in a place where people are quite familiar with the little village mentality.

BK: Have you seen “Hot Fuzz”? I always think of it as the ‘Hot Fuzz mentality’—it’s that idea that everything is O.K., we’re all happy, there’s organised fun—but with those real undercurrents of tension and anger and hatred.

It all bubbles beneath the surface before exploding towards the end.

Yep, they look pretty angry to me

Yep, they look pretty angry to me

Very Cambridge. So, three words each to describe the opera?

GK: Mine can be: See. It. Yourself.

BK: You’re using one of your words as ‘it’? I’m going to go with: [thinks] Edgy. As. Fuck.

Right. And finally, your favourite type of fish?

BK: I’m a real sucker for smoked salmon…

GK: I have a lot of tinned mackerel…[silence] I’m being very honest in this interview.

Albert Herring is running at the Fitzpatrick Hall, Queens’ College from 4th to 8th November at 7.45p.m. Tickets are available from ADC Ticketing.