Albert Herring Synopsis

A Comedic Opera in Three Acts

In this scene from the first act of Benjamin Britten’s opera, Albert Herring, Albert Herring (performed by Peter Pears) is toasting his election as May King in his town’s May Day Festival. Little does he know what the night has in store for him. David Spenser, Norman Lumsden and Joan Cross are also in the scene.
In this scene from the first act of Benjamin Britten’s opera, Albert Herring, Albert Herring (performed by Peter Pears) is toasting his election as May King in his town’s May Day Festival. Little does he know what the night has in store for him. David Spenser, Norman Lumsden and Joan Cross are also in the scene. Hulton Archive/Getty Images


Benjamin Britten


June 20, 1947 - Glyndebourne Festival Opera, East Sussex, England

Other Popular Opera Synopses

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Benjamin Britten chose to compose the music for this comedic opera based on the suggestion of his librettist, Eric Crozier.  The opera is an English adaption of Guy de Maupassant's novella Le Rosier de Madame Husson.


  • Albert Herring, a greengrocer clerk
  • Mrs. Herring, Albert's mother
  • Lady Billows, an elderly aristrocrat
  • Florence Pike, Lady Billow's maid
  • Nancy, a baker
  • Miss Wordsworth, a school teacher
  • Mr. Gedge, the Vicar
  • Mr. Upfold, the mayor
  • Sid, a butcher clerk
  • Superintendent Budd, police

Setting of Albert Herring

Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring is set in the small market town of Loxford, England, in the spring of 1900.

Albert Herring Synopsis, Act 1

Florence Pike exhaustedly cleans the house of Lady Billows, an elderly aristocrat, after lady Billows decides to revive and organize the town's May Day Festival.  Lady Billows is busy appointing and contacting a small group of the town's most important people, charging them with the duty of electing the May Queen (a title that can only be given to a chaste and virtuous young girl).  The small committee assembled under the direction of Lady Billows consists of Miss Wordsworth (a school teacher), Superintendent Budd (of the police), Mr. Upfold (the mayor), and Mr. Gedge (the Vicar).  During one of their last meetings before electing the May Queen, the committee names 25 finalists.  However, Florence, who knows all the dirt and details, reveals facts that disqualifies every single nominee.  Lady Billows becomes depressed - she was passionate about the festival.  When all hope is lost, Superintendent Budd suggests a radical idea: Why not crown a May King instead?.  Lady Billows and the other members of the committee ponder the idea and everyone is pleased with the new direction of their event.  As they debate who should be named May King, Superintendent Budd recommends Albert Herring.  Budd knows that Albert is a good lad and, unlike the girls in town, is still a virgin.  Lady Billows insultingly comments about the girls, still ticked off about her original plans falling through, but is happy with the newly selected Albert Herring.  The committee is in full agreement with Budd and Lady Billows and set out to deliver the news to Albert in person.

Albert is working in a greengrocer shop (a small produce market) while children play outside in front of the storefront. Sid, a butcher clerk, stops by the shop and tells the kids to go play somewhere else.  Albert kindly greets Sid at the front of the shop, and Sid light-heartedly teases him, which is easy to do because of Albert's shy and somewhat odd nature.  Nancy, a baker from nearby, arrives to purchase a few vegetables and is happy to find Sid there.  She and Sid are dating and share a kiss in front of Albert.  Albert awkwardly turns away, feeling depressed about his life.  He has lived with his mother all his life and has never known or experienced a romantic relationship.  Moments after Nancy and Sid leave, the May Day committee arrives and announce Albert's selection as .  Albert rejects the idea; the spectacle of being paraded about town in swan-white clothes does not fancy him.  Albert's mother, on the other hand, accepts the honor on his behalf.  Her intentions are less than selfless; along with the nomination/election comes a prize of 25 guinea.  After the committee leaves, Albert and his mother continue to argue.

Albert Herring Synopsis, Act 2

The May Day Festival has arrived and Sid and Nancy prepare food for the banquet that will take place in the tent outside of the parish church.  With a devilish grin, Sid decides to play a small joke on Albert, and after convincing Nancy to help him, they spike Albert's lemonade with rum.  Meanwhile, Albert and the rest of the town are inside celebrating Albert's election and appointment as the May King.  After the coronation ceremony, townsfolk begin entering the tent and taking their seats.  Once Albert arrives, he is presented with his prize money and asked to make a speech.  As he stumbles through his speech, he notices expressions of pity appear on the faces in the audience. He takes a large drink of lemonade from his glass and pushes through his speech, becoming drunk in the process.  Throughout the remainder of the banquet, Albert demands more and more lemonade. 

Later that night, Albert returns to the shop almost completely intoxicated.  When he hears Sid and Nancy walking by, he quickly hides and eavesdrops on their conversation.  Concerned for Albert, they talk about his circumstances and situation with pity and remorse.  However, their worries are quickly forgotten when the young lovebirds begin flirting with each other.  After they leave, Albert is determined to experience the thrill of life.  With his prize money in hand, he sets out on his own to seek adventure. Meanwhile, his mother arrives at the shop and locks the doors believing Albert is already in bed.

Albert Herring Synopsis, Act 3

The following morning, Albert's mother is shocked to find Albert is not there.  She alerts the entire town that Albert is missing.  Feeling extremely guilty, Nancy consoles Albert's mother.  Before long, large search parties are formed and the hunt for Albert commences.  It is announced that Albert's flower-adorned crown was found on a nearby road, crushed by the wheel of a cart.  Thoughts and expectations turn to the worst, and everyone believes that Albert's lifeless body will soon be found.  A young boy shouts that he found something large and white at the bottom of a nearby well.  The townsfolk rush to gather around the well and begin mourning for his loss.  Just when everyone one believes Albert to be dead, Albert, very much alive and well, though dirty and disheveled, casually walks by.  He is quickly surrounded by the townsfolk who are flabbergasted by his return.  Something happened to Albert that night that changed him indefinitely.  He thanked the May Day committee for awarding him the 25 guinea that allowed him to have one of the greatest nights in his life.  After telling his story, including all of its scandalous details, the committee and many of the other townsfolk angrily return to their homes.  However, Sid and Nancy take delight in his story and couldn't be happier for him.  When alone with them, Albert admits that he slightly embellished the events that transpired the previous evening.  He happily returns to his shop with the ability and courage to standup to his mother.