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RARELY PERFORMED OPERA IS A GEM

Benjamin Britten operas are something of an acquired taste. They are almost never performed in these parts. The only one in memory was Sarasota Opera's production of The Turn of the Screw in 1988.

So this summer's staging of Britten's comic opera Albert Herring is a rarity, and it's being done in a rather unlikely setting, the black box theater of the Nature Coast Technical High School in Hernando County. It's part of the Intermezzo Young Artist Program, which has brought 73 singers to the area for a month of training and performing four operas.

Along with the Britten, the Intermezzo schedule includes Verdi's Falstaff, Mozart's The Magic Flute and Puccini's Suor Angelica. Each is sung to piano in the original language without supertitles.

Albert Herring, based on a Maupassant story, takes place in the English village of Loxford, where none of the local girls are deemed virtuous enough to be named Queen of the May. So organizers, led by the imperious Lady Billows, land on the idea of choosing a young greengrocer as the king. Naturally, Albert confounds their best-laid plans by going off on a drunken binge.

All this might seem like so much piffle, but Friday's performance built up dramatic momentum as it went along, and the cast included some interesting young singers, such as Daria Cortese as her ladyship, John A. White as Albert, Emily Geller as his mother, Christopher Dickerson as Supt. Budd and Sara Oettinger as music teacher Miss Wordsworth.

Bryan Martinez and Laetitia Spitzer were attractive as flirtatious sweethearts, and the village children were winningly portrayed by Katherine Cole, Rebekah Ankrom and Leah Holder Wyman.

The production, directed by Andrew Chown, was minimalistic, with only a few props and set pieces, costumes that merely suggested the characters and basic lighting. But the Britten score shone through with some wonderful music, especially the exacting, unpredictable ensemble numbers. J. David Jackson was the attentive conductor, and Justina Lee did yeoman work at the piano.

Albert Herring has a performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday; Falstaff at 7:30 tonight and 3 p.m. Friday; The Magic Flute at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 7:30 p.m. Friday. All at NCTHS, 4057 California St., Brooksville. $10, $15. (352) 797-7088, ext. 296, or (727) 534-5742.

OPERA ON FILM: Opera Tampa is hosting a free screening of the 1976 film Tosca to introduce the company's new artistic adviser, legendary baritone Sherrill Milnes, and its new associate director, Maria Zouves. The two are married and live in Palm Harbor. Milnes plays Scarpia in the film, which also stars Raina Kabaivanska as Tosca and Placido Domingo as Cavaradossi. 7:30 p.m. Thursday at TECO Theater of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. (813) 222-4880, ext. 4880.

OPERA IN ORLANDO: One relatively new work will be on Orlando Opera's 50th anniversary 2007-08 season, Mark Adamo's 1998 Little Women, based on the Louisa May Alcott novel, with performances April 4 and 6 at the Orlando Repertory Theatre. The schedule also includes Don Giovanni (Nov. 16-20), Die Fledermaus (Feb. 15-19) and Turandot (April 4-8), all at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. See www.orlandoopera.org.

John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com.

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