Britten: Peter Grimes

Britten: Peter Grimes

by Peter Pears
     
 
Thankfully, opera companies are taking chances on more recent repertory these days, though the "20th-century opera" label still scares some audiences away. Benjamin Britten's sublime Peter Grimes is a modern opera that's so accessible and dramatically compelling it may startle even the most conservative operagoer. In this

Overview

Thankfully, opera companies are taking chances on more recent repertory these days, though the "20th-century opera" label still scares some audiences away. Benjamin Britten's sublime Peter Grimes is a modern opera that's so accessible and dramatically compelling it may startle even the most conservative operagoer. In this performance we have the rare pleasure of enjoying a high-quality recording where the composer himself is conducting. Britten wrote the opera for his lifelong lover, Peter Pears, and on this 1958 recording the tenor is haunting as the doomed fisherman. Claire Watson is appealing as Ellen Orford, though several younger sopranos have portrayed the role with more sumptuous vocal beauty. The real marvels here are the extensive choral scenes and the orchestral interludes in which the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus play acquit themselves beautifully. This is still the greatest recording of this moving 20th-century masterpiece.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Eddins
Decca is to be commended for reissuing the original 1959 recording of "Peter Grimes," conducted by the composer and starring Peter Pears, who created the role. There have been a number of subsequent recordings of the opera, but this one, both as a document of the composer's intentions, and on its own musical merit, remains essential for any Britten fan, or for anyone with an interest in twentieth century opera. It could be argued that the townspeople of the Borough dominate the action of the opera. They are a group unified in the antagonism of Grimes that eventually destroys him, but Britten and librettist Montagu Slater brilliantly delineate the unique musical and dramatic characteristics of many of the individuals in the group. The townspeople here are uniformly convincing, and their contributions are crucial in making this recording so memorable. Each characterization is vividly realized, and most importantly, the personal interactions are believable. The individuals together create a vibrant community, mean-spirited and narrow-minded for the most part, but persuasively realistic. They would be a formidable adversary to anyone, and to a character as alienated and unstable as Grimes, their united certitude would have been unassailable. While the motivation of the townspeople is transparent, the two individuals at the center of the drama, Grimes and Ellen Orford, are complex and conflicted. Grimes' motivations are in some ways ambiguous, so there is latitude to portray him in a variety of ways. Pears highlights Grimes' vulnerability, due at least in part to the lightness of his vocal timbre, and he is entirely persuasive. The role was written for him, so his interpretive choices have authority, and he fully inhabits the character. Other tenors have brought equally valid interpretations to the part. Jon Vickers, on the Philips recording, represents the opposite pole; while Pears' Grimes could primarily be characterized as a disturbed victim, Vickers seems genuinely dangerous, like a caged bear. His powerful heldentenor makes his Grimes more physically threatening, and that quality brings a special poignancy to his anguished decline. The choice of a recording may hinge on the listener's perspective on Grimes' character. Claire Watson portrays Ellen Orford, who must persuade the listener that her loyalty to Grimes is not entirely irrational. Watson embodies the attributes that are necessary for a convincing Ellen -- tenderness toward Grimes based on genuine attraction, coupled with a realistic assessment of his flaws, and the independence and courage to stand up to the townspeople. She sings with pure tone, ideally suited to her tender moments with Grimes and the apprentice, but leaves the listener wishing for more wildness in her confrontation with the crowd. Decca's production values are high for the recording, made in its heyday of studio opera recordings. The CD is accompanied by a handsome booklet that includes a perceptive article by Philip Brett, libretto and even photos of the recording session, just like in the days of the LP. Decca's attention to creating the illusion of spatial relationships captures the ambience and urgency of a stage production, the highest praise for an opera recording. The sound quality reflects the very highest technical standards of the time of the recording, and remains entirely satisfying.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/10/2006
Label:
Decca
UPC:
0028947577133
catalogNumber:
000747802
Rank:
276473

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. Peter Grimes, opera, Op. 33  - Benjamin Britten  - Benjamin Britten  - Owen Brannigan  - Lauris Elms  - Geraint Evans  - Iris Kells  -  David Kelly  - John Lanigan  - Raymond Nilsson  - Marcus Norman  -  Royal Opera House Orchestra Covent Garden  - James Pease  -  Royal Opera House Chorus Covent Garden  - Montagu Slater  - Marion Studholme  - Claire Watson  - Jean Watson

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