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 Performances

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Benjamin Britten
28 Sep 2012

Peter Grimes BBC Prom 55

The ghost of Peter Pears may no longer hover in the wings, but in an age when ‘defining’ interpretations by the likes of Jon Vickers and Philip Langridge still linger powerfully in collective audience memories, Stuart Skelton’s interpretation of Crabbe’s problematic fisherman is assuming a striking individuality and impact.

Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Benjamin Britten

 

Somewhat paradoxically, in a Proms performance of the 2009 ENO production which could not be classed as either a concert performance or semi-staged, Skelton’s dramatically intelligent and musically affecting rendition crystallised Grimes’ essential ambiguity: the bitter, vicious anger which arises from Grimes’ frustration with his own failings and his community’s hypocritical lack of compassion, was as credible as his creative visions and lyric outpourings. When he gruffly clasped his shivering new apprentice boy (Jacob Mason-White), there was both concern and callousness in the impulsive gesture. Skelton’s Grimes is not brutal fisherman or visionary dreamer, rather a convincing amalgam of the self-doubts, ambitions, flaws and injustices of which all men are comprised.

With the ENO chorus seated behind the orchestra, there was little room at the front of the stage platform for any expansive physical movement or actions; however, Skelton’s unbridgeable separation from the Borough was evident from the first, alienation and hostility resonating from every ounce of his slouching bulk as he took his place in the dock to face the murder charged intoned gravely by Swallow (Mark Richardson, standing in at very short notice for the indisposed Matthew Best). The extremes of the limited stage area were well used. As he tied and re-tied his capstan rope while the Borough gossiped salaciously about Grimes’ brutal treatment of his apprentice boys, Skelton seemed to be compulsively and ceaselessly wringing his hands in outer defiance and inner despair at his alienation and impotence. And, recklessly setting off into the rough weather in pursuit of a profitable catch and ultimately Ellen Orford’s hand in marriage, Grimes’ descent beneath the stage seemed to indicate his existential loneliness and his final doomed fate.

And then there was the singing. Skelton employed the full panoply of shades and timbres to convey Grimes’ inherent contradictions and unpredictability. A slightly reticent tone in the Prologue, suggesting his annoyance and unwillingness to co-operate, blossomed at the end of the scene to reveal the sincerity of his love for Ellen and the fragility of his hopes for the future. Emotionally committed, holding nothing back, the occasional catch in Skelton’s voice exposed the burly fisherman’s essential vulnerability, and how close he was to breakdown; at other times, a rebellious, ringing bellow reminded the Borough of the defiance and danger he posed to their own hypocritical smugness and complacency.

But it was in the lyrical moments of self-revelation that Skelton’s Grimes really revealed the pain of his inner struggles. From the soaring aspirations of the Act 1 cry, “What harbour shelters peace?”, to the still beauty of Grimes’ mysterious appeal to the heavens in Act 2, “The Great Bear and Pleiades”, Skelton’s firm tone, now sweet and pure, then intimating the weight of his inner agony, ensured our sympathies lay with the outsider, whatever his suspected misdemeanours. The subtle rallentando and controlled legato line of the pianissimo scalic descent, “Who can turn skies back and begin again?”, was heartrending; and in the Act 3 ‘mad aria’, when haunted by echoes of the Borough’s accusations and his own regrets, Skelton managed to convey the disintegration of man whose psyche and future are fragmenting but also one who retains an inner core of self-reliance and insolence.

Although initially a little strident, Amanda Roocroft credibly portrayed Ellen Orford’s strong resistance to the Borough’s hypocrisy and oppressive mores, and a genuine feeling for her unlikely soul mate. An overly wide vibrato caused some initial problems (Skelton had to work hard to overcome these in the unaccompanied duet which closes the Prologue), but Roocroft relaxed into the role and summoned a warm tone and flexible lyricism, most notably at the opening of Act 2 when she first tries to reassure the young apprentice of Grimes’ essential goodness, and then pleads with Peter to cease from work and remember their dreams. Roocroft’s characterisation grew in strength as her voice became more focused, and by the end her rich sonority was a powerful indictment of the Borough’s insincerity.

Iain Paterson’s Balstrode was authoritative and compassionate, his diction superb, his melodic phrasing thoughtful and, like Skelton, Paterson economically clarified Balstrode’s ambiguous role in Grimes’ experience and fate: his resonant command - “We live and let live, and look-/ We keep our hands to ourselves” - immediately quelled the Borough’s scandal-mongering but their insistent repetitions of his reminder grew ever more menacing, laden with insinuations.

The minor portraits were deftly drawn, not without humour but generally avoiding caricature. As Mrs Sedley, Dame Felicity Palmer enunciated every word crisply and with self-justifying emphasis, just as one imagines this self-righteous laudanum addict would pontificate. But, Palmer injected another dimension, conveying Mrs Sedley’s essential isolation from the Borough whose moral position she assumes she articulates. Seated in the chorus, alone at the end of a role, during the Sunday Morning scene, she struck a rather pitiful figure. Stuart Kale’s Reverend made a strong impact, especially in this Sunday church scene: positioned in the middle of the chorus, he led the community in their devotions, their backs turned on the more genuine, human interaction between Ellen and Peter on the beach below, the disjuncture between stale, insensate convention and the difficult, painful but ultimately life-giving interactions of humanity laid bare.

Michael Colvin was a lively, rakish Bob Boles, while Leigh Melrose’s Ned Keene was fittingly dark and sinister. In the 2009 ENO production, Auntie and her two Nieces were, like many of the Borough, depicted as grotesques, but - excepting the dubious retention of the straggly rag dolls which the mature Niece’s incessantly trailed behind them, seeming joined at the hip - there were fewer exaggerations here. Rebecca de Pont Davies’ Auntie was a woman clearly in control of her customers and her own destiny; and, in their Act 3 duet, Gillian Ramm and Mairéad Buicke sang with warmth and character.

Edward Gardner’s mastery of Britten’s orchestral and operatic language is undisputed, but even by his own lofty standards Gardner excelled. Confidently adopting a slow, spacious tempo in the first orchestra Interlude, he conjured both the stillness of the dawn and the massive apocalyptic forces latent beneath the shimmering surface, as surge after surge swelled to break the translucent glistenings of the high strings; the transition into the chorus which opens Act 1 was seamless, powerfully revealing the unbreakable bond between the sea and the community who depend upon the volatile waters for the lives and livelihoods. The Storm interlude was frighteningly ferocious, every nuance of orchestral colour summoned to evoke the elemental forces. In the Passacaglia, the texture thinned to allow the plaintive searchings of Amélie Roussel’s viola solo to sing soulfully of the apprentice’s melancholy and loneliness.

The ENO chorus were a little ragged and hesitant at first, their raised fists during the trial scene rather convincing and stilted. But, the ensemble settled and, despite a slight imbalance between men’s and women’s voices, they represented a fearsome and intransigent force for Grimes to defeat. At times involved in the action, as in the church scene mentioned above, elsewhere adopting a more distanced role as moral commentator, they were a telling reminder to us all of our own implication in the fates of individuals whom we judge and condemn.

From the first flick of his baton to summon the self-righteous mutterings of the bassoon, to the final shadowy whispers of the held strings and trombones, Gardner did not once allow the dramatic and emotional tension to slip. As the inevitable conclusion was reached, Skelton, commanded by a resolved Balstrode to scuttle his boat and escape the accusations which he could never answer, slipped reluctantly but resignedly away through the standing Promenaders. The full audience in the Albert Hall held its breath; and there was little emotional respite as the daily life of the Borough resumed, Grimes erased from their memories and their consciences by the majestic sea, which “rolls in ebb yet terrible and deep”.

Claire Seymour

Click here for cast and production information.

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):