Stuart Skelton in ENO's Peter Grimes
We catch up with Stuart Skelton, currently starring in Britten's dark opera
David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes is the first ENO opera to be broadcast live in cinemas across the UK as part of ENO Screen. We catch up with tenor Stuart Skelton partway through his run of performances in the lead role to discuss reviving this sell-out 2009 production, coping with unforeseen disasters and the impact of the ENO Screen broadcasts.
So, how is the production going so far?
I think it’s going extremely well. It’s not the first time I’ve done the production so it feels very familiar. I understand that the reception so far has been excellent – that’s always good!
Have you had to overcome any disasters before or during any of the performances?
Well, there have been two disasters actually – I had to cancel my last two appearences because of a chest infection. Last Thursday (30 January) and Saturday my colleague Mike Colvin performed in my place and did a stunning job. Now I am back and ready to go for the next performance, which is tomorrow (Friday) – Valentine’s Day.
What challenges does the Grimes character offer?
Grimes isn’t a character you can relate to in any real terms. (If you do, you probably shouldn’t!) I derive a great deal of excitement and pleasure from being able to portray him. I believe that making a character and an opera compelling for yourself is garaunteed to make it compelling for an audience as well. That’s part of the challenge – and fun – of what we do as opera singers.
David Alden brings the plot forward to 1945, which is when Britten completed the opera. What do you think that adds to the production?
Alden presents the plot in a world that Britten would have known himself. When Britten wrote the opera, the world was still at war and by the time it opened in 1945, peace had been declared for only a week. It makes the whole thing much more immediate and close to Britten. The story being told is one of the individual against the mob, and that can be told in any time frame.
You are working with conductor Edward Gardner for this production, as you did back in 2009. Is there anything you have talked about doing differently this time around?
I think it has naturally evolved a little bit. Edward said something very interesting a while ago. He pointed out that in 2009, when we did this for the first time, we didn’t really know the potential of what we held in our hands. It wasn’t until after we had had some great reviews and sell-out performances that we began to realise that it was something really special. This time we have been able to fearlessly commit from the very beginning, all the while knowing the potential of the show. That has been really enjoyable.
This is the first production that the ENO is broadcasting live in cinemas. Are you having to prepare for the performance on 23 February any differently from those on the other nights?
No. At the end of the day we will be performing for the 2,500 people in the auditorium in front of us. We simply trust the guys to do their thing with cameras and equipment and trust them to create a good show for those watching at the cinema. The cinema viewers will have the advantage of the close-up and things that cameras can do that we can’t do live, but perhaps won't experience the visceral qualities possible in the theatre.
What impact do you think ENO Screen will have?
It certainly gets the production out to an audience far beyond the 2,500 a night that fill the auditorium of London Coliseum. One of the advantages of doing it in this particular way, as opposed to doing a film of an opera in the studio, is that people see the real live performances. If something goes wrong when its performed live, it goes wrong. You can’t rely on retakes. I think the way that the ENO are going about this by relaying a live performance is faithful to the concept of the whole idea of live opera. There’s a real buzz about it and we’re all focusing on giving the best performances we can.
ENO Screen takes place at cinemas around the UK on 23 February. Stuart Skelton performs as Peter Grimes on 14, 21, 23 and 27 February at the London Coliseum.