story | About the opera
opera is set in a fictitious English market town, Loxford in Suffolk,
in the early summer of 1900.
One, Scene One
Lady Billows, virtuous herself and self-appointed guardian of
virtue in others, is anxious to select a May Queen in Loxford.
A representative group of local worthies (schoolmistress, vicar,
mayor and policeman) gather at her home to discuss the candidates.
Each candidate's suitability is brought in question, with reference
to observations made by Lady Billows' assistant, Florence.
the idea of a May King is mooted and accepted. This honour
is to be given to Albert Herring, who, with his mother, runs the
One, Scene Two
Sid, the butcher's delivery boy, encounters Albert in his mother's
shop. Albert is clearly dominated by his mother, and the arrival
of Sid's girlfriend Nancy only serves to make him nervous and
they have left, the committee comes to inform Albert of his election
as King of the May. Albert is less pleased by the honour and prize
of 25 pounds than his mother.
Two, Scene One
During the May Day festivities, Albert's friends surreptitiously
ply his lemonade with rum. After his brief speech Albert drinks
his lemonade and is immediately struck with hiccups.
Two, Scene Two
Albert returns home later that evening, elated by his success
and by the rum. While pondering his loneliness he overhears Sid
and Nancy in the street outside discussing his being tied to his
mother's apron strings. This provokes Albert to think of breaking
free: he tosses a coin, and decides to go out and enjoy himself.
after he leaves, his mum returns. Hearing no sound, she imagines
Albert must already be asleep.
The following afternoon Albert has still not yet returned home.
It is presumed that he has had an accident and is dead.
returns dirty, disheveled and defiant after a bibulous night out
on the town, upsetting those mourning his death. His vivid account
of his drinking expedition shocks them further. He turns on his
mother, accusing her of provoking him, and when the group of shocked
townspeople has left him he assumes his position as master of
Herring was written in 1947 as the first work for the
newly formed English Opera Group, which was comprised of
colleagues dedicated to the advancement of contemporary English
was written specifically to be a comic companion piece to Britten's
recently completed operatic tragedy, The Rape of Lucretia
(1946), with each sharing a chamber opera format (reduced instrumentation,
no chorus and physical portability).
with Peter Grimes (1945), these represent an astounding
creative period of three full-length operas in as many years,
all of which are masterpieces of a type and all still very much
in the repertory!
three works also share a theme that is central to many of Britten's
works throughout his career, that of the individual at odds with
the society in which s/he lives.