Review: Peter Grimes @ Aldeburgh Festival
Friday 21st June 2013
Never has an opera character had his name said so much in a work.
The Benjamin Britten festivities this year reached a zenith with this performance of his best opera Peter Grimes. It was preformed on the shingle beach at Aldeburgh. This was an undertaking that would never be repeated. It was a one off and a great experience. One of those events that people in years to come will ask ‘Were you there?’ and I can proudly say 'Yes I was'. The orchestra couldn’t say the same since they were recorded before the show, for the safety and convenience of the players. Only the audience and the singers got battered by the weather.
We faced the North Sea in all it's brutality and grace. I had a blanket over me in the second act, as it began to rain. I looked like a cross between ET and the Virgin Mary. There was a point in the middle act that I was thinking of packing it all in and just leaving. I’m glad I stayed since the third act was by far the best of the three and had some of the best music Britten ever put on paperâ€¦
The fisherman Peter Grimes’ apprentice has died in unusual circumstances. With the borough unsure of his actions he somehow obtains another boy to assist in his back breaking work. But when the second apprentice falls off a cliff and dies, that is when the real drama comes in. How will the town react? Can Peter be saved? And more importantly ‘What harbour shelters peace?’
Like with WNO's Lohengrin, this has been set in the time it was written, 1945. The evening was off to a spectacular start when an actual spitfire plane blazed across the sea and above the stage. It did it twice and was a spectacle in its self. Later a child with a Nazi flag had me dumfounded. The children were playing a wired take on Cowboys and Indians.
The third act is filled with splemdid music that still keeps me brimming with joy to this day. The chorus also belted out a frenzy with their hunt for Grimes. The surprising polkas and bar music Britten writes is also very appealing. The real surprise was what the music Mrs Sedly (played by Catherine Wyn-Rodgers ). With her suspicions growing over where Peter and the boy are. Her part is arguably my favourite of the whole work. The gorgeous Aria sung by Ellen Orford has string writing that reaches for heaven. Britten is very good at conjuring up visions of the sea, as he proved his the Sea Interludes taken from the opera and for the concert hall.
Although Alan Opie didn’t have the stocky stature that should go with playing Peter, his singing along with the sea have an never ending scope. Giselle Allan as Ellen remained an intense focal point in the opera. I still don’t understand why she would want to be with a horrible oaf like Peter in the first place. Its hard to know what to think of his character. Should I say that. Is he rather a victim of circumstance?
Nice to see a few of the chorus of WNO join us for the performance. Turned out WNO specially ordered three sea going sprat boats for a previous production of the opera from the last boatyard in Slaughden, an vanished fishing village next door to Aldeburgh.
I’m so glad I was able to make it to Suffolk to see this.
An unforgettable performance. CD recording out now. Soon to be released on DVD.