A final flourish in London would see a concert version of Benjamin Britten’s finest stage work, Peter Grimes. His first opera proper, this piece was deviating on first impact back in 1945. Set in Suffolk in the early 1800s, this remains a devastating examination of the individual vs the community. The libretto by Montagu Slater is also a thing of beauty, sharp and stirring, taking George Crabbe’s short stories and turning them into something vivid for the 20th century.
I have to say, for what is essentially an amateur orchestra and singers, I was extremely impressed. This is not an easy piece by any standard and it felt like a lot of rehearsal had gone into the whole thing. Sat in the front row, I was battered by this North Sea storm, the cast and conductor inches away from me. I will be honest and say most moments with some soloists in the chorus and some members of the orchestra had brief wobbles, but these are small quips in another wise stellar offering.
John Hudson adds a depth of Ricky Tomlinson as the titular character. A proud tenor, I find him to mostly work in this commanding role, some phrasing here and there needed some work. He had some touching moments his monologue towards the end was touching, some lines between sung and spoken. Wales’ own Mari Wyn Williams made a marvellous Ellen Orford, also getting a superb aria in the third act. The large ensemble of singers could be seen in productions some of them really looking the part. Nicholas Folwell was great as Captain Balstrode, more sympathetic to Grimes’ abuse and antics. As Ned Keene, Nicolas Morris made a great sight, the pill peddler and all round smuggler, with some fine acting to boot.
As Auntie, Mae Heydorn excelled as the exhausted bar keep of The Boar pub, where a lot of the funny and stormy moments occur in the opera. She really could be the part and her voice had that syrupy style the role commands. Mrs Sedley is always fun, the busy-body of the bough here tackled by another fine singer: Susanna Tudor-Thomas. It’s a role which is easily hammed up, some might call her a Karen by today’s standards, though Susanna had fun and we did too. John-Colyn Gyeantey had brief, biblical bouts as the Rev Horace Adams, a diverse choice of singer in this concert.
Colin Judson got to act drunk as the off the wagon Methodist and has been seen with big opera companies. His voice pierced through in the mind boggling end of act one scolding Grimes for his sweet and surreal aria, as they wait for this next doomed young apprentice. Paul Sheehan, fashioning an amazing moustache and beard, he looked the part as well as Swallow another character lost in the gossip and hearsay that penetrates the story. The bass-baritone opens the show with declamatory pipes, with Grimes in court to understand what happened with his first boy who died on Grimes’ boat at sea. Ronald Nairne as Hobson, another bass who though in it quite little, showed off some nice deep tones. As both Nieces, Ally Dunavant and Micaela Abreu delighted in their harmonies, though a bit more attention to keeping together in the opening of the last act.
Conductor Russell Keable kept the storm in motion, this powerful score hardly lost at sea, though there where moments which might have suggested this. I did note a moment when he turn to one singers to cue them in, when I was another singers who was about to sing. The orchestra in the more tender, turbulent moments dazzled in what is regarded as the finest English language opera of the 20th century. The chorus in their hunt for Grimes blazed with glory for one of my favourite moments for an opera chorus. All that was missing was pitch forks.
Being at the Royal Opera a few nights prior, I dare say I found there to be some better singing here than overall here. Britten would have loved this community effort.