At his exercise
06/24/2000 - and 28, June, 1, 7, 11, 14, 19, 27 July, 1 August 2000
Benjamin Britten Peter Grimes
Anthony Dean Griffey (Peter Grimes), James Jeffreys (Boy), Vivan Tierney
(Ellen Orford), Steven Page (Captain Balstrode), Susan Gorton (Auntie),
Camilla Tilling (First Niece), Linda Tuvas (Second Niece), John Graham-Hall
(Bob Boles), Stafford Dean (Swallow), Hillary Summers (Mrs Sedley),
Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Rev Horace Adams), Christopher Maltman (Ned
Keene), Michael Druiett (Hobson), Michael Haughey (Dr Crabbe)
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus
Mark Wrigglesworth (conductor), Trevor Nunn (director), Stephen Rayne
Wise parents offer their smaller offspring spinach and other high-minded
food as a treat. The children quickly come to enjoy spinach greatly.
Somewhat similarly, some of the audience at the Glyndebourne Festival hear
the artiest and most tragic operas as part of a corporate boondongle.
Glyndebourne certainly seems a strange venue for Peter Grimes, an
attack on an English mean-mindedness that is nowhere to be seen in the
expensive, comfortable and civilized theatre and gardens, and set in an
impoverished and dreary town on the Suffolk coast, complete unlike nearby
Lewes in landscape or temper. And the audience clearly loves it.
Trevor Nunn's 1992 production, revived by Stephen Rayne, goes some way to
making Grimes easier to take by presenting it as a dark operetta
with expressionist high-points, perhaps domesticating the mental cruelty of
England in the second world war as James Whale's Frankenstein does
the physical horror of the trenches. The sets are all picture-book cute,
and the massed denizens of the borough are strongly characterized, like
cartoon characters. Mark Wrigglesworth and the London Philharmonic
Orchestra likewise bring out the music-theatre, even Gilbert-and-Sullivan,
qualities of the score. But there is a sense of lurking monstrosity which
emerges with the two hunts for Grimes, clearly presented as lynchings. The
second pursuit, with a burning cross and boathooks, also echoes visually
the similar scene in Frankenstein.
Most of the performances, by a wonderfully well chosen cast of singers, are
also theatrically neat and deceptively three dimensional. John Graham-Hall
is a splendidly quavery Bob Boles, Christopher Maltman a spivvy Ned Keene,
Stafford Dean a pompous, prurient Swallow and Hillary Summers (a late
substitute for Jard van Nes) a splendidly melodramatic Mrs Sedley.
Individually they are slightly weird, and collectively, stacked up in the
gallery of the moot hall in the prologue, they are terrifying.
The key performance, though, are of course, those of Grimes and Ellen
Orford. In this production, Grimes has no particular mystery -- he's not a
visionary or a homosexual -- he's simply trapped in a cycle of violence and
regret that are mirror-images of each other, forced into transgression
every few seconds by the limitations of the Borough's moral order. Ellen's
collusion is similarly basically an inability to break out of an abusive
relationship. Vivian Tierney was an almost purely emotional Ellen,
responsonding to Grimes' and the boy's pain by joining in rather than
simply trying to enforce propriety in a benign way. Tierney's ability to
express pain in beautiful singing is almost disturbing. The bruises were
there in Ellen's voice long before Grimes hit her.
Completely heartbreaking, though, was Anthony Dean Griffey's Grimes. His
voice is a fine lyric tenor, very agile and precise with the words. But his
huge physical and dramatic presence, and his ability to express anger and
grief, make his Grimes far more than a theatrical study. Again, there was
more than a hint of Frankenstein's monster to him, with the additional
torture of a beautiful voice that didn't relate to any inner beauty, only
to a sense of pain and loss. Strikingly, "The great bear and the Pleiades"
took time to come together -- this Grimes is not much of a visionary, more
someone who has disoriented turns -- but "I've dreamed myself a kindlier
home" was agonizingly perfect from the beginning.
Griffey's performance alone justifies the trip, but Tierney and the rest of
the ensemble make this a production which might well be good for you but
which you are highly likely to want to see in any case.