Albert Herring

Erica Jeal
Mon 12 Aug 2002 08.40 EDT

Glyndebourne's final production of the summer has been eagerly awaited, partly because it marks the return of Peter Hall's well-loved 1985 staging of Albert Herring, absent for 12 years and now revived by Hall himself. But the focus of most of the anticipation was the house debut of Vladimir Jurowski, already appointed as the company's music director.

Some thought it strange that a young Russian conductor should be booked for Britten's comic opera, one of the most quirkily British in the repertoire, but Jurowski's performance will have dispelled any doubts. The story of Albert - the mummy's boy who is elected May king of his Suffolk village in the absence of any female virgins, then blows his prize money on all the debauchery Ipswich has to offer - is no comfortable comedy. By playing it absolutely straight, yet with the lightest of touches, Jurowski ensured that its biting caricature came through as well as its gentle warmth.

In a time when most companies are forced to embrace minimalism to save on the design budget, John Gunter's full stage sets are stunning. The Herrings's greengrocers shop, the street behind it and the trees still further beyond are all lavishly re-created, as is Lady Billows's manor house, complete with heraldic stained-glass windows.

What happens within is a finely observed ensemble piece, strongly cast. Only Diana Montague's Florence Pike slightly misses the mark; Florence, after all, is the dragon-like Lady B's amanuensis as well as her housekeeper, and has ideas above her station, but Montague slips into unrefined mockney a bit too often.

Malena Ernman is a fruity-voiced, earthy Nancy, Christopher Maltman a charismatic Sid. Hall (not Britten) demands Suffolk accents, which meander geographically and don't always fit the music, but the singers give it a good stab. Singing her first Lady Billows, Felicity Lott is formidable yet not ridiculous, and gets to boss around a strong quartet of do-gooders.

Best of all, though, is Alfred Boe in the title role, who makes a convincing journey from repression to enlightenment with some strong, clear singing and marvellously expressive features. The production (albeit with a different cast) tours this autumn, and will be well worth catching.

· In rep until August 25. Box office: 01273 813813.