Yesterday I saw a performance of Peter Grimes at the ENO. I had been concerned about getting there in view of the tube strike. In the event, the busses were excellent, and the journey from Liverpool Street and back by bus was actually far better than the tube, without the interminable wait for an anti-clockwise Circle Line train.
The start was not propitious, with the main lead singers, Stuart Skelton and Elza van den Heever having been struck down with illness. Since the understudies were also affected, two artists had to be brought in at very short notice. As with other times when I have seen this happen, the performers are all such consummate professionals that if we had not been told, I’m sure that no-one would have noticed.
The opera though was problematic. It was the first time I had seen or heard a performance of Peter Grimes all the way through. Although I have seen excerpts, I knew it would be a challenge. The orchestral interludes were absolutely superb, mournful and evocative, and demonstrate Benjamin Britten’s mastery of the genre. The sung parts of the piece were hard work though, and I could not get out of my mind Dudley Moore’s send up of Britten and Peter Pears in the Beyond the Fringe sketch.
The surtitles at the ENO are very effective, and I had hoped that, like with Wagner, being able to read the words and follow the plot would make a tremendous difference to the enjoyment of the opera. In the event I found the words to be banal and the plot difficult to follow.
The production was, I thought, quite good; modernist and austere, with clever lighting throwing sharp shadows of the players on to the set. Very effective. What was not effective though, were the antics of ‘Aunie’s’ two nieces, the so-called ‘main attractions’ at the Boar public house. They variously cavorted around the stage, sometimes dressed in school uniform, walking or dancing in step around the stage like a couple of comedy storm-troopers or female versions of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They were absurd and greatly detracted from the dramatic effects, some of which were excellent.
Overall though, it was not good, and my companion left after the second act. The problem is that I came away feeling that I should have enjoyed it, but I really didn’t, and I’m unlikely to go and see it again. It has prompted me though to read George Crabbe’s poem on which Peter Grimes was based. His poetry is very accessible and is interesting because it is about normal working people living in a Suffolk village in the early 19th century.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs