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The Independent Culture
The Turn of the Screw may be Benjamin Britten's finest opera, but Peter Grimes is his most popular. In the last four years there have been new productions at both ENO and Glyndebourne. The production by Elijah Moshinsky (below), which returns to the Royal Opera House to mark the 50th anniversary of the premiere, first appeared there in 1975. In the programme for the first revival, in memory of Britten's death in 1976, John Amis observed that at the 1945 premiere, "most of us in the audience realised that Ben had broken through the operatic sound barrier."

Tim Albery's production at the Coliseum (1991) enraged those who missed the naturalistic detail of more "traditional" productions where the Borough's fisherfolk tend to do an awful lot of fishing-net-and-sou' wester acting. Instead, he and designer Hildegard Bechtler produced a Rothko-like vision against which the vengeful chorus were welded into a terrifying group, etched out by Jean Kalman's scalding light.

In early performances of the Moshinsky production, the almost instantaneous disappearance of the chorus barely a moment after shrieking for Grimes's blood in the witch-hunt of Act Three took your breath away. More recent revivals have left this moment poorly rehearsed, the lights coming back up to reveal cast members trooping off stage. With rumours of a hot new Grimes in the form of Canadian Ben Heppner, let's hope the powers that be have set aside more time for the all-important chorus scenes. Next to Grimes, they are, after all, the most important characters.

`Peter Grimes' is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden WC2, 8, 11, 19, 22 Apr (0171-304 4000)

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