Saturday, March 15, 2008

Peter Grimes

Natalie Dessay, our hostess for the simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera, asked Anthony Dean Griffey to describe his preparation for the title role of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. He replied that his whole life was preparation. "I was born to play Peter Grimes." I would have to say that I agree. His voice was if anything better in the part than Peter Pears, the singer the role was written for, and his large looming presence adds just the right note of fear and loathing. I've seen him before--last year in the LA Opera production of Mahagonny. He is a lyric tenor with power to back it up when he needs it. He is a man born to be Peter Grimes.

It is taught in school that this is Britten's masterpiece, but how is one to know when one has never seen it before?

The production was excellent. The set consisted of a floor to ceiling wall of doors which could be constantly repositioned to create different effects. The doors looming over the hero help to create his paranoia and sense of isolation from the crowds of villagers who never seem to leave him alone. It also helped to control the masses of people on the stage and prevent the chorus from confusing us about the characters. The essential choral work was massive.

Anthony Dean Griffey refused to answer Natalie's question about whether or not Grimes was guilty, preferring ambiguity. I suggest that unlike the law life is always ambiguous.

I particularly liked the first part of the second act where Grimes and Ellen talk while words from the Book of Common Prayer are recited in the background.

The always beautiful Patricia Racette was simultaneously gentle and powerful in the critical role of Ellen Orford. We aren't sure what she sees in Peter Grimes.

Everyone seemed perfect, including Jill Grove as Auntie the pub mistress, John Del Carlo as Swallow and Anthony Michaels-Moore as Balstrode.

Also born for Peter Grimes is the Scottish conductor Donald Runnicles. His work was full of love. In his brief interview he explained how Britten had composed for the movies, how the orchestra creates the feeling of the storms at sea that are crucial to the action.

I rarely come out of an opera feeling that there aren't here and there tiny bits that could be improved. Not so here. Benjamin Britten would feel proud of this wonderful production of his masterpiece. We believe now.

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