Although Benjamin Britten was a notorious depressive and neurotic perfectionist, he managed to compose one of the funniest and most outrageous of all operas: Albert Herring , which the USC Thornton Opera Program presents this week in all its audacious glory. The work takes aim at two touchy subjects — Catholicism and sexuality — a bold move indeed for 1947, when it premiered. Based on a story by Guy de Maupassant and transposed to the post–WWI British countryside, the plot is drop-dead hilarious: When Lady Billows, organizer of the annual May Day festival, is horrified to discover that her housekeeper has dug up dirt on every girl nominated for Queen of the May, the village superintendent suggests that the local mama's boy, Albert Herring, wear the crown, as he's certainly the only virgin in town. In essence, a drag queen becomes the May Queen, and with his prize money, Albert goes on a drunken spree and discovers the joys of debauchery. The talented young cast includes Timothy Gonzales and Eric Hanson alternating in the title role; Caitlin Beam and Allison Foster as Lady Billows; and Tim Campbell and Travis Sherwood as Sid. Ken Cazan directs and Brent McMunn conducts the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra.

Thu., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 22, 2 p.m., 2009

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