Peter Grimes, in concert, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2012Posted on 25 August 2012
For those who saw English National Opera’s new production of Peter Grimes in 2009, here was a chance to savour the full glory of Britten’s score. With the ENO orchestra and chorus in the vast expanse of the Albert Hall under brilliant direction by Edward Gardner, this was a musical treat.
As Grimes himself, Stuart Skelton gave a hugely powerful performance, with Amanda Roocroft warmly sympathetic as Ellen Orford, the same pair as in the 2009 production. Once again Rebecca de Pont Davies gave a fine performance of Auntie, and Gillian Ramm and Mairéad Buicke sang beautifully as her ‘nieces’. Felicity Palmer gave a witty portrayal of the spiteful Mrs Sedley, Leigh Melrose a strong performance as the apothecary Ned Keene, and Iain Paterson was terrific as Captain Balstrode. If the ENO restage this in coming years, one can only hope they will be able to call on his services for the role.
Despite the fact that this was a concert performance, broadcast on Radio 3, those of us in the audience had the advantage of some clever staging. Grimes’s new apprentice was present, cowering under his fierce domination, and at the beginning of Act II while Ellen is singing alone, the chorus (in church) turned round towards the chorus master, who conducted them standing in front of the bust of Henry Wood. As they sang, the Albert Hall organ played — a lovely touch. Then as the act progressed, Skelton hit his forehead in frustration, before calming down and trying to encourage the boy, sending him off-stage and letting him down by a rope. As the men from the town approached he forgot the rope, and we witnessed the fatal moment. At the end of the act, Balstrode stood alone on stage, the viola produced another solo, beautifully played by Amélie Roussel, and he slowly picked up one of the boots the boy had left behind.
Act III started with an off-stage band for the tavern scene, but as the chorus and principal singers start to express their disapproval of Grimes, using strong arm gestures, the stage was set for Amanda Roocroft to give a lovely rendering of “Peter, we’ve come to take you home”. To her horror, Balstrode tells him to take the boat out and sink it, and Grimes slowly exited winding his way through the audience in the pit. The singers returned to stage, the chorus intoned words about the majestic sweep of the sea, and this superb performance came to an end.
Edward Gardner with the ENO orchestra and chorus, along with Stuart Skelton as Grimes raised this to the very highest level, and I cannot wait to hear them do it again at the London Coliseum.