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Archive for December 4th, 2006

Peter Grimes

We drove 170 miles to go to the opera in Newcastle, stayed over, and drove 170 miles back.    The opera was completely worth all the effort.

This was Peter Grimes in Phyllida Lloyd’s production for Opera North, and was an revelationary and spellbinding interpretation.     It is an opera with many characters, a whole chorus of characters and the character that is there throughout in the music:   the sea.   There were no weak links in this production:   every part was really well sung, from Grimes himself down to the smallest.   The chorus, who have a lot to do here, were superb – singing and acting.    The orchestra under Richard Farnes were inspirational.   

So with everything so good, what made it even more than the sum of its parts?   

Firstly, Phyllida Lloyd’s insight into the piece:   more than Grimes the outsider, more than the sea and the weather – Lloyd puts the people’s reaction to Grimes under the microscope.    When Grimes starts singing about the stars in the night sky – and the community say that he’s “mad or drunk” rather than consider that Grimes might be going over the edge and needing help.       

Secondly, the staging:   this opera is normally set in and around the fishing village – on the quay, in the pub and so on – usually detailed busy sets, and set changes happening during the sea interludes.    The sparse staging here is hugely effective, and allows us to see continuous actions on the stage – the sea interludes and passacaglia are used to maximum effect, allowing fresh insight into the opera.

Thirdly, the singers not only sing really well, but have clearly spent time inhabiting their roles, and it shows.    Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Grimes put in a tremendous performance – he has a long and difficult unaccompanied scene near the end:   too much madness and it can get overdone, and too little is not enough;    I have not heard or seen this more intelligently handled – Grimes knew exactly where he was at, with his options closing in.      Giselle Allen was a strong Ellen – so well sung – and the chemistry between her and Grimes was very evident, with the end of the Prologue (given what’s to come) quite extraordinarily moving.    Christopher Purves as Balstrode and Roderick Williams as Ned Keene also gave very special performances.   

I have seen Roderick Williams before in “The Knot Garden” by Tippett at Scottish Opera, and in an almost  definitive Bach St John Passion in Perth Concert Hall – he is a singer worth travelling to hear.

So, if you are in Leeds this week, and can get tickets, don’t miss this.   Even if you are not sure about Britten, or indeed Opera – this is Music Theatre at its very best.

It is a haunting and disturbing experience.   

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