Washington National Opera has finally gotten around to staging Benjamin Britten's landmark opera Peter Grimes, a production that opens this evening and runs for only six performances through April 4 (at the time of writing, only the March 29 matinee has sold out). The company is mounting its first production of Grimes, incredibly, only a few years after Santa Fe Opera, where this staging premiered in 2005, directed by Paul Curran. Some adaptation of the production has been necessary in Washington, because of the different nature of the Santa Fe theater, open at the back and sides to the desert wind. More about how how it worked out in my forthcoming review.
Britten, Peter Grimes, dir. Elisha Moshinksy, J. Vickers, H. Harper, Covent Garden, C. Davis
My preparation for this review has included revisiting some famous interpretations of the opera, including Jon Vickers in this DVD from Covent Garden. Made in the 1980s, the performance by the Canadian tenor may not have all of the force of his legendary Grimes in the 60s, but it is still a rendition of enormous power. Vickers, a tenore di forza who sang a killer Radames and Tristan among other roles, was a brutish Grimes, with clarion strength quite different from Pears, with a large frame, rough face, and compelling acting. The staging, directed by Elisha Moshinksy, is full of drab browns and grays, with the vista at the back of the stage over the nondescript stage, from which fog creeps up and Grimes drags his boat. Colin Davis conducts the orchestra in a way that matches Vicker's strength, with volcanic surges during some of the interludes and imperious brass. So many fine conductors have recorded the score, including Britten himself, that it sets the bar very high for Ilan Volkov, the young conductor who led the NSO in a compelling program in January.
Britten, Peter Grimes, dir. John Doyle, A. Dean Griffey, P. Racette, Metropolitan Opera, D. Runnicles
The Met's Ellen Orford, Patricia Racette, will also sing the role in Washington, building on her rave performance as Jenůfa here in 2007. At the Met she was a warm, tragically misguided Ellen Orford, with my only complaint being the grainy quality of her voice that robbed some of the sound in the largest passages (by comparison to Christine Brewer, who sang the role in Santa Fe). Racette's Embroidery Aria and other quieter parts were exquisite, though. The bonus of these Met DVDs, which are recordings of the wildly successful digital broadcasts, are the intermission features, here hosted by Natalie Dessay, which give a backstage look at the Met stage. The final tableau, a scaffolding with models in modern clothing mentioned by reviewer James Jorden, disappeared after opening night and is not shown in the DVD either.
Benjamin Britten - In Rehearsal and Performance with Peter Pears
I think that the human voice is the loveliest of all instruments. [...] I like the human being and his or her voice so passionately that I can never feel that I shall go into a studio and write electronic music. It is not going to have for me any magic. I think that the acme of perfection in music is the human voice singing beautifully beautiful music, whether it be one's mother over one trying to make one go to sleep when one is two years old and having a restless night or the Beatles, I don't know -- perhaps you will convert me to that.Hopefully, the conservative Washington audience will defy expectation and turn out for Peter Grimes. Judging by the tongue-clucking I have heard from older opera-goers this month, WNO should make more inexpensive tickets available to bring in a hopefully more open-minded, younger audience.