Review: ENO - Peter Grimes @ London Coliseum
The Britten festivities aren’t over just yet. ENO gives us their revival of Britten’s first great opera, Peter Grimes. This acclaimed production was not to be ignored at and quite simply had to be seen. I have bigged it up as a major event in London (which it is). All very exciting.
It has been an enthralling evening. I’m physically and mentally drained coming from Cardiff for this show. My guest, who has been to very little opera, was bowled over by the sheer intensity of it and also the pending inevitability in the story. It’s a demanding piece even for an opera in English. The story is pretty bleak, but the music is a hotbed of sounds from the sea and other delights. The orchestra conducted by Edward Gardener, were majestic in their delivery, the sea interludes precise and the detailing in the score given true expression.
The chorus certainly have this music at heart (with some retro dance moves to boot!). Their jovial nature could easily be turned negatively at bullet speed towards Grimes. My ears were ringing at the sheer force of their singing. The setting was near similar to that of the production on Aldeburgh Beach last year (being set around the time the opera was written). As grand as it was, that production could only do so much for the outside setting, whilst here we were given very ambitious set pieces. Grimes’ hut was a highlight, with its rising, angular foundations. I almost expect Grimes and his new apprentice to fall off. *Spoiler alert* This does happen to the poor boy, only being the other side of the hut and down the cliff. The sofas for the pub, The Boar scene were an odd, yet slick choice. The huge sliding walls also look like something that would be good to keep the North Sea well away.
Character wise there is much to discuss. Australian tenor, Stuart Skelton, was massively remarkable as Grimes. Billed as the last great singer of this role since John Vickers, he remained a totally engrossing presence over the evening.
Elza van den Heever as Ellen Orford, gave a master class in symphony giving (her rendition of the Embroidery Aria was sublime). You really pity and question her character as to why she could ever be with a man like this. Captain Balstrode, doesn’t have his own aria in this, but Iain Paterson made a sympathetic and logical supporting role. The dashing, fine suited Leigh Melrose (with additional pencil moustache) was all pimpish in his drug pedalling and made for an occasional comic foil. The brilliant Rebecca de Pont Davies was a sort of prohibition, drag-king, gangster as Aunty, the owner of The Boar Pub. Her presence was pleasantly felt at times, keeping things in line when it came to events occurring within her establishment.
Her nieces taken on by Rhian Lois and Mary Beven, were seen to be half brainwashed and half vixens. It’s a weird choice; since I can’t pinpoint just how old they are supposed to be (they floundered around in school uniforms in some parts). My favourite character, Mrs Sedly was tackled by Felicity Palmer. Her suspicions throughout the work, amount to great double bass and celli lines in the third act, that ominously linger and stagnate from the orchestra pit. Her typical yet expected take on the role is easily mimicked and always loved by audiences. I keep hearing her piercing and nagging voice yelling "Mr Swallow! Mr Swallow!... I want the lawyer, Swallow!" in my head.
The second act I can’t rave about, but the third is by far my favourite. With the Moonlight sea interlude, the Polka, Mrs Sedley’s music, the mob chorus and more it makes for thrilling and head-bobbing times. I was very emotional in this, my peak when Grimes knew what he had to do after his second apprentice had died (we may not like him, but its just so heart-breaking). The mob is after him, but the next day they quickly subside, seeing a boat on the water in the distanceâ€¦
I don’t think I can say much more, other than try and see it. Or watch in live in the cinema in a few weeks.
Many thanks to ENO for the tickets. I hope this will be start of a good relationship with them.
Operatically, this was a grand way to start the year. I look forward to WNO's Fallen Women season, which is very soon.
Visceral, breath stealing and downright tremendous.
Peter Grimes runs at the London Coliseum until Thursday 27th February 2014. The performance on Sunday 23rd February 2014 will be filmed and broadcast live as part of ENO Screen. Both Cardiff’s Cineworld and the Odeon will screen the performance.
Related Article: Review: Peter Grimes @ Aldeburgh Festival
Photos by Clive Barda and Robert Workman