Peter Grimes, Opera North, On Tour
Whirlwind, Streetwise Opera, The Sage, Gateshead
Les Noces / Oedipus Rex, CBSO Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Phyllida Lloyd's production of Peter Grimes is an unnerving examination of communal hysteria. Where Britten romanticised the man who "chose from man to hide", Lloyd leaves the question of Grimes's guilt unanswered, instead focusing on the claustrophic hell of George Crabbe's embittered analogue for Aldeburgh, The Borough. That the setting is modern is immaterial. If the workhouse system has vanished, there are still parentless children who die in the care of those to whom their lives are entrusted, and still mobs to avenge them.

Anthony Ward's set is a bare space dressed with a simple series of salt-washed pallets (assembled and moved by the cast), a vast net, a stern cross, and the shadowy mass of Paule Constable's lighting. Every conversation in the Borough is observed, from behind the pallets or openly, while the glittering orchestral interludes, played with startling severity and lack of sentimentality under Richard Farnes's fleet beat, accompany a series of tableaux in which the villagers' rejection of Grimes and his apprentice becomes yet more brutal.

Instead of a star tenor and a supporting cast, Opera North has assembled an ensemble of equals, orchestra and chorus included. Indeed, for much of the opera Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts's anti-hero is overshadowed by Christopher Purves's charismatic Balstrode and Roderick Williams's easy, sleazy Keene. Their characters and those of Auntie (Yvonne Howard), her brattish nieces (Amy Freston and Claire Booth), Methody Boles (Alan Oke) and the other villagers are clarified gradually. Only Mrs Sedley (Ethna Robinson) and Ellen Orford (Giselle Allen) have made up their minds about Grimes - one thinking the worst, the other hoping desperately for the best.

Allen's Ellen is tender and uninhibited, raptly sung, half-mother, half-lover, though Grimes retreats when her embraces become too intimate. Lloyd-Roberts contorts his body like a troubled child, though this rough manifestation of a barely-controlled temper fails to gel with his light, lyrical singing. Perhaps this is deliberate? Grimes the poet and Grimes the man are distinct, however badly Ellen wishes they might emulsify. His brutal punch to her empty womb is properly dismaying. The real violence, however, is that of the villagers. In Lloyd's brilliantly staged lynch-mob they press to the edge of the pit, stamping on an effigy of Grimes and gasping for breath in the pin-drop silences between each fanatical scream of his name.

At the close - in Lloyd's production, also the beginning - it remains uncertain who is responsible for the deaths of Peter Grimes's apprentices. Were they victims of communal neglect? Misfortune? Or, in librettist Montagu Slater's inspired euphemism, "Grimes's exercise"? Seen so soon after Jonathan Kent's seamless production of The Turn of the Screw - musically the superior work, yet one in which Britten lacks objectivity - Lloyd's production is especially powerful. How wonderful to have two such compelling touring productions of Britten's greatest operas in one season. And how disturbing that both leave luridly broken lives in their wake.

More maritime drama at the premiere of Will Todd's Whirlwind , which tells the story of a long-destroyed Devon fishing village through the words of its sole survivor, Lizzie May Prettyjohn (Heather Shipp). Though over-reliant on West End ballads and atmospheric noodling, Todd's two-part chorus writing is tight and vivid, provoking an impassioned performance from the homeless and ex-homeless cast of Streetwise Opera. Keith Warner's direction was clean and sharp, while Jason Southgate's designs had an impact of inverse proportion to his tiny budget. It is interesting that while Covent Garden and English National Opera unveil such ill-conceived commissions as Bird of Night and Gaddafi, hard-pressed companies such as Streetwise and Tête à Tête are more reliable midwives for new music theatre.

While Shostakovich has dominated the schedules of most British orchestras, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has been concentrating on Stravinsky. It's not every day one has to the chance to hear Les Noces played by Katia and Marielle Labèque, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Kirill Gerstein with Thomas Adès and the superb percussionists of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. Alas, so overwhelming was the authentic quarter-tone caterwauling of the Pokrovsky Ensemble's vividly costumed folk singers that the four grand pianos might as well have been played by Bobby Crush, Richard Clayderman, Tara Palmer Tomkinson, and the late Les Dawson.

It could be that my seat was in one of those acoustic black holes that almost every concert hall has, for similar problems hampered my enjoyment of Sakari Oramo's performance of Oedipus Rex with the CBSO. Only Ekaterina Gubanova's electrifying Jocasta triumphed over the treble-heavy glare that obliterated Stravinsky's counterpoint. All those funky, crunchy twists of harmony in the bassoons disappeared, while the male chorus sounded as though they were singing from Ladywood. As the Listen Up! logo was on the programme and microphones were on stage, I hope a future Radio 3 broadcast might fill in the holes in what I heard.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

* 'Peter Grimes', The Lowry, Salford (0870 787 5785), 8 and 11 Nov, then touring

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam