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.
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 The top 50 cities for young people to live in
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils