LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: Britten: Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach
WORKS: Peter Grimes
PERFORMER: Alan Oke; Giselle Allen; David Kempster; Gaynor Keeble; Alexandra Hutton; Henry Waddington et al; The Chorus of Opera North; Chorus of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama; Britten-Pears Orchestra/Steuart Bedford; dir. Tim Albery
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 102 179; Blu-ray: 108 101
‘Who can turn skies back?’ demands Peter Grimes. Well, the inventive film director, for one, who cleverly grafts extra moody Suffolk cloudscapes into this already unique performance, staged live to a pre-recorded orchestral track on Aldeburgh beach in 2013.
Opera coexists with the real world rather uneasily: Aida at the Pyramids and Turandot in the Forbidden City weren’t always as effective as I expected. But the sombre hues of East Anglian sea and sky have always been recognised in this score, and seeing them here is stunningly atmospheric; while Leslie Travers’s half-ruined boardwalk set, flanked by weathered fishing boats, positively reeks of the locale. The updating to 1945, the year of its composition, is fairly irrelevant, but far more effective than La Scala’s 1960s travesty. Here Tim Albery preserves the work’s balance and ambiguity, especially in Alan Oke’s striking Grimes.
He’s vocally lyrical, more Peter Pears than Jon Vickers, but his lanky, grizzled aspect is absolutely convincing as is his characterisation, greeting friend and foe alike with the same almost autistic emotional aggression. Giselle Allen’s strong-voiced, fiery Ellen seems all the more heroic and self-deluding. David Kempster’s Balstrode is genial but ultimately detached, while Robert Murray gives Bob Boles’s tabloid-style ranting cutting force and clarity. Gaynor Keeble’s Auntie is excellent, Nieces likewise, while Catherine Wyn-Rogers even evokes shreds of sympathy for Mrs Sedley, mocked by Charles Rice’s spivvy Ned Keen. Underpinning them and Opera North’s superb chorus is Steuart Bedford’s incisive, brooding reading, reminding us once again just how great a Britten interpreter he is, no mere legacy figure.
Undoubtedly the open-air acoustic and omnipresent head-mics create a mildly unnatural effect, slightly underpowering moments like Act I’s great cry of ‘Home!’; but this is still a marvellously involving performance.
Michael Scott Rohan