Classical review: Peter Grimes, Snape Maltings, Suffolk
Monday 10 June 2013
It was in many ways appropriate that Aldeburgh’s Britten-centenary festival should open with a concert performance of Peter Grimes.
Not only did this establish him as an opera composer, it also earned him his compatriots’ forgiveness for skipping off to America when war loomed. Set in Aldeburgh’s fishing community, it’s shot through with politics. While its librettist Montagu Slater gave it a Marxist slant, Britten imbued its central character with the spirit of his own double outsiderness, as a homosexual and pacifist conscientious objector.
Grimes, he said, was "very much of an ordinary weak person… at odds with the society in which he finds himself" - as witness the feral fury of the witch-hunting mob which his music evokes in Act Three.
The Peter Grimes of the George Crabbe poem which was Britten’s original inspiration was a rugged psychopath; in refashioning him to be sung by the super-refined Peter Pears, Britten created a disturbing archetype which was to recur in five further operas.
Some singers invest Grimes with a full-on aggression, but here Alan Oke gave him an arresting inwardness, the goal being less vocal beauty per se than a burning expressivity, and his two great recitatives – his hymn to the stars and his visions of escape from economic bondage – were glowingly illumined. And it was Oke’s – and our – good fortune that his Ellen Orford (the widowed schoolmistress who is the vehicle for his dreams of escape) should be sung by Giselle Allen, a soprano with an artistry to match his own. The final scene, with Oke savagely pronouncing his own death-sentence, was haunting in the extreme.
The other characters in this community were delineated with Dickensian vigour, with David Kempster’s resonant Balstrode, and Alexandra Hutton and Charmian Bedford as the two flighty Nieces, being outstanding. And with the young musicians of the Britten-Pears Orchestra backed by the choruses of Opera North plus the Guildhall we got a sound which, if rough at the edges, was absolutely compelling. Conductor Steuart Bedford created bewitchment with the musical ironies of Act Two and with the delicate interplay of textures which pervade the work as a whole.
Meanwhile, down by the water’s edge, a crazy simulacrum of Aldeburgh is now taking shape: stand by for Grimes on the Beach, which will be this same show staged alfresco. Will it work? Will it rain? Let’s hope the gods smile on 17 June.
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Howard Jacobson: Let's see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is
- 2 Instagram of US airport security chiefs: Lipstick knives and IED training kits among items seized
- 3 Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014: In defence of Mesut Ozil - the Arsenal midfielder works magic in the shadows
- 4 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
- 5 Tony Abbott embarrasses Australia by praising Japanese WWII military, ‘getting on the sake’ and posing for ‘crotch-shot’ photo opportunity
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
There’s a nasty smell in the political air – and it’s coming from the Tories
Vanessa Feltz criticises 'vile' reaction to Rolf Harris allegations