Saturday, April 12, 2008



Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 13th of April 2008 at 3 pm

REVIEW (Sarah Noble)

KARADAR does not provide the libretto (written by Montagu Slater); the one I have is from the box-set of Benjamin Britten's own performance, conducting the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1959; but in the last scene the words written are not always the ones that are sung; Britten had it rewritten.

BRITTEN: Peter Grimes, an opera in a prologue and three acts

A small Suffolk fishing village called the Borough is the setting for the story of the fisherman Peter Grimes. He is isolated from his community who regard him as a murderer and a cruel master to his boy apprentices

Peter Grimes................. Anthony Dean Griffey
Ellen Orford.................. Patricia Racette
Balstrode...................... Anthony Michaels-Moore
Mrs Sedley................... Felicity Palmer
Auntie........................... Jill Grove
Hobson......................... Dean Peterson
Swallow........................ John Del Carlo
Ned Keene................... Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch/Donald Runnicles (EBU)

At last, an opera with a mad scene for tenor! Peter Grimes raves at the end, egged on by the nagging voices of his village; and his only two friends watch him put out to sea to drown himself. Only a ghoul would get a giggle out of this, but we may hear some laughter from the audience when Aunty's 'nieces' (pleasure-girls) are performing; and Boles, the drunken lecherous Methodist preacher, is a comical paradox. Notice our Teddy is in there, as the Good Keen Bloke Ned, an apothecary.

The name Benjamin Britten can still strike terror into faint hearts, and this one is grim, and Peter is grimy.

Look at the line-up of suspects:
*Peter Grimes (1945), fishy deaths of apprentices in the Borough (Aldeburgh);
*The Rape of Lucretia (1947), Tarquinius does it, and in shame Lucretia stabs herself to death (I persuaded Helen to go with me to the London Coliseum to see it, at half-price; we did not get Kathleen Ferrier or Janet Baker; and no joy, either);
*Billy Budd (1951), they hanged the innocent stammering lad on the high seas;
*The Turn of the Screw (1954), the ghost of Peter Quint drives the boy to death in the governess's arms;
*Owen Wingrave (1970), in the haunted room Owen lies dead of no apparent cause;
*Death in Venice (1974), Aschenbach, obsessed by a beautiful boy, collapses and dies.

Yes, but what about the operas in between?!
*Albert Herring (1947), Albert the May King gets drunk and rampages merrily;
*Gloriana (1953), Good Queen Bess dances, for the coronation of ER II;
*A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960), and they all lived happily ever after.
And Britten's first one was *Paul Bunyan (I also own a recording of that), text by W.H. Auden, composed when Ben and his inseparable partner Peter Pears were in America, early in WW II ; described as a "choral operetta", Britten's attempt to get a show onto Broadway. It is the story of a gigantic lumberjack who is too large to fit on the stage, and only his voice appears; he does not die in the end, but moves on to fell another forest (what a hero!).

For my own preparation for Peter Grimes, I have been playing a videotape (without pictures) of the Wellington City Opera production of 1995; Richard Greager is Peter (with a beard, as depicted in The Listener; I was not there to see him); I will name Roger Wilson (Hobson) and Michael Leighton-Jones (Keene) as people I have worked with in the Palmerston North Choral Society, and above all Wendy Dixon (Ellen); where is she hiding?!

No comments:

Post a Comment