Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Peter Grimes (Stuart Skelton) and Ellen Orford (Amanda Roocroft) [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera]
13 May 2009

Peter Grimes — English National Opera, London Coliseum

In David Alden’s extraordinary new staging of Britten’s masterpiece, with sets by Paul Steinberg, the Borough is populated by stylised grotesques, a clever twist on the opera’s existing ‘Little England’ character stereotypes.

Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton; Ellen Orford: Amanda Roocroft; Captain Balstrode: Gerald Finley; Auntie: Rebecca de Pont Davies; Swallow: Matthew Best; Ned Keene: Leigh Melrose; Bob Boles: Michael Colvin; Mrs Sedley: Felicity Palmer; First Niece: Gillian Ramm; Second Niece: Mairéad Buicke; Hobson: Darren Jeffery; Reverend Horace Adams: Stuart Kale; John, Grimes's apprenctice: Benny Gur. Conductor : Edward Gardner. Director : David Alden. Designer : Paul Steinberg. Costume Designer : Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Lighting Designer : Adam Silverman. Choreographer : Maxine Braham.

Above: Peter Grimes (Stuart Skelton) and Ellen Orford (Amanda Roocroft)

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera

 

In one of the production’s creepiest moments, the big man-hunt chorus in the middle of Act 3 is accompanied by waving of miniature Union Jacks.

Everyone you focus on has a darker secret than the last. At the more normal end of the range are Felicity Palmer’s Miss Marple-esque Mrs Sedley and Leigh Melrose’s apparently speed-addicted Ned Keene. The most disturbing include Darren Jeffery’s Hobson, who appears to have a whole boy-killing factory of his own going on unnoticed right under everybody else’s noses. Weirdest of all are Auntie and the Nieces — Rebecca de Pont Davies as a club-footed cross-dresser with a pinstripe suit and walking cane, and Mairéad Buicke and Gillian Ramm as a pair of possessed zombie twins in identical school uniform and pigtails. The Nieces are the production’s only faintly jarring note, with their vacant and jerky choreography which makes them barely even recognisable as human beings, but if they have one dramatic function it’s giving a new layer of depravity to Bob Boles, Swallow and everybody else who shows a sexual interest in them. Perhaps they are the ultimate product of this diseased community.

Yes, it’s the norm here to be disturbed, deformed or damaged (even Balstrode, sung by the excellent Gerald Finley, is missing an arm — besides the costumes, this is the most obvious visual clue to the production’s 1940s setting, though Auntie seems a throwback to the 30s) and Peter and Ellen are seemingly the only complete and sane individuals among them. Although her even-temperedness and common sense make her stand out from her neighbours, Ellen is integrated into the community — a community where people do everything together, moving in swarms — but Grimes is a loner, and it is this and this alone which leads to his becoming the local scapegoat. By the end, they have poisoned him into madness, but at least he is able to escape through death. Ellen is the one who has to live with it all, and I dare say she fits right in with the rest of them after all she has been through. With Amanda Roocroft in the role, there are echoes of her recent, brilliant Jenufa here — a bright-natured, attractive young woman worn down through her experiences. At times her singing is shrill on top and her diction indifferent, but her character portrait is spot on, the relationship with Grimes filled with real tenderness.

The Australian tenor Stuart Skelton is as fine a Grimes as you could wish to hear, wielding both his large voice and burly physique with intelligence and subtlety. Emerging from the man-hunt and the subsequent pained calm of the final interlude, Alden’s staging of the mad scene is devastating in its simplicity: the surtitle screen and orchestra pit go dark, and Grimes is alone in the abyss beneath a grey and foggy sky. Skelton maximises the effect the solitude of the setting with a performance of heartbreaking vulnerability and emotional intensity.

peter_grimes006.gifPeter Grimes (Stuart Skelton); Auntie (Rebecca de Pont Davies) (front rt); Bob Boles (Michael Colvin) (front rt in upturned chair); First Niece (Gillian Ramm) (lying down front nearest); Second Niece (Mairéad Buicke) (behind first neice)

As Grimes hears the drum-led procession approaching his hut — in a clear and chilling musical echo of his vision, moments earlier, of the first dead boy — he is distracted into letting go of the rope with which he is making safe John’s descent down the cliff. Thus the villagers become directly responsible both for the death of the apprentice and for Peter’s self-destruction as a result of it. It is a heart-stopping coup-de-theatre.

In the two years that Ed Gardner has been ENO’s Musical Director I don’t think he has ever drawn a better performance from the house orchestra than in this detailed but never fussy account of the score. The playing of the interludes was virtually faultless, with a particularly memorable brass timbre, the jazzy shape of the phrases in the Storm Interlude crafted so as to introduce the incongruous 1930s vintage of the inhabitants of the Boar. A number of remarkable and inventive Grimes stagings have been seen in London this decade, but musically, this is head and shoulders above the others. It is perhaps ENO’s finest musical achievement this decade.

Ruth Elleson © 2009

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):