Britten: Peter Grimes

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Glyndebourne
WORKS: Peter Grimes
PERFORMER: Anthony Dean Griffey, Steven Page, Susan Gorton, Stafford Dean, Vivien Tierney, Hilary Summers, Christopher Maltman, Michael Druiett; Glyndebourne Chorus; London PO/Mark Wigglesworth
CATALOGUE NO: GFOCD 008-00

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Like the Sizewell plant relying on the North Sea near the eponymous fisherman’s ‘borough’ of Aldeburgh, this is a nuclear Peter Grimes. I lost count of the number of shocks and goosebumps it gave me. All this from a Trevor Nunn production which was hardly incendiary when it first opened at the old house in 1992, and which in 2000 had a conductor in Mark Wigglesworth praised by some, reviled by others.

I can’t understand why. This is the greatest conducting and playing – LPO on top form – of Britten’s first operatic masterpiece I’ve ever heard, by some way (including both the composer’s own focused Decca interpretation and Edward Gardner’s recent account at English National Opera). It’s agile, fleet and sharp in the choral ensembles – no doubt helped by a relatively slimline ensemble of top young voices – and searingly weighty in the interludes: the crucial central Passacaglia catches fire and blazes. 

The singers match Wigglesworth’s level of inspiration. Anthony Dean Griffey, though he occasionally has the visionary beauty of the late, great Anthony Rolfe Johnson, is very much his own man as Grimes: his torment breaks out in spine-chilling shouts and the mad scene subsides into haunted crooning which takes us to another place until the heightened dawn music allows the tears finally to flow.

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Vivien Tierney matches pristine truth with heroic-soprano firmness (admirable in Act I’s ‘Let her among you’), and Steven Page energises Balstrode’s pronouncements. With no weak link in the ensemble – would that there were space to name them all – this is an ideal presentation of a masterpiece at its unrelenting best. A shame that Nunn’s sets need so much shunting in interludes, and the sound finds the voices a little recessed. But that’s almost irrelevant, bearing in mind that this company triumph might not have been preserved at all. David Nice