Peter Grimes, Grange Park Opera, June 2014Posted on 16 June 2014
Having heard negative comments from one friend about Jeremy Sams’s new production of Grimes, and from another that it was first rate, I was intrigued to see for myself.
Sets and costumes were reliably authentic from a time somewhere in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century, and the superb video illusion of the sea rippling to the shore just behind the backdrop even seemed to wet the stage with its overflow. Towards the end with Grimes, Ellen and Balstrode alone on stage with the boat, Grimes pushes it forward, climbs in and vanishes in a swirling cloud of mist. This marvellous conjuring trick made it look as if the boat passed through the backdrop and out to the waters behind.
Among other excellent aspects of the production, the nieces were sometimes seen upstairs at Auntie’s tavern, in one case even getting paid by a young sailor. Nothing untoward about that, yet underlying childhood disturbances inform the attitudes of Grimes and Ellen, illustrated during the orchestral interludes. Jeremy Sams uses these to recall the past, showing Grimes as a boy with a sinister, lanky man who almost throttles him at one point, his hands holding down the boy’s neck, and in the fourth interlude, after a beautifully sung female quartet (From the gutter …) by the nieces, Auntie and Ellen, we see a young Ellen too.
These silent mimes of past events were tasteful, subtle, and shorter than the orchestral passages themselves, but what of the singing? In Grange Park’s small auditorium the clarity and vocal power required no surtitles, and there were none.
Carl Tanner made a heroically poetic Grimes, with a vocally riveting recollection of the previous apprentice’s last moments following a lovely soliloquy (In dreams). Georgia Jarman was a beautiful Ellen, singing with a warm sympathetic tone if lacking the usual robust earthiness, and Stephen Gadd’s Balstrode was a marvellous figure of authority whose response to Ellen’s feeling of powerlessness in We have the power … came over with huge effect.
Superb vocal strength from Andrew Rees as the irritating Methodist Bob Boles, a glorious representation of apothecary Ned Keene by Gary Griffiths, and Rebecca de Pont Davies as that investigative busybody Mrs Sedley came over as a wonderfully boggle-eyed Miss Marple. Fine singing from Matthew Stiff as Hobson, who also showed remarkable percussive abilities in banging the drum for the party to go to Grimes’s hut, and among other supporting roles, Clive Bayley as the lawyer Swallow seemed dropped into the role by the gods themselves, presiding with superb diction and divine gravitas over Grimes’s trial in the Prologue.
Steady, sustained and sympathetic conducting by Stephen Barlow, excellent singing from the chorus, and Soraya Mafi and Rosie Bell as the sexy nieces were a delight, with Anne-Marie Owens a fine presence as Auntie. The friend who called it first rate was right, yet there were some jarring aspects in Act II: after Hobson beats the drum the crowd’s movement in regimented formation gives the impression of a musical, and the good night chorus had a similar ‘musical’ feel as did the final on-stage chorus. Yet although this Grimes may lack hard edges, the wonderful singing plus excellent designs, video designs and lighting by Francis O’Connor, Andrzej Goulding and Paul Anderson evinces a powerful sympathy with the story.
Performances continue on various dates until June 21 — for details click here.