Opera Reviews
14 August 2020
Untitled Document

A fine showcase for English National Opera



by Colin Anderson
Britten: Peter Grimes
English National Opera
The BBC Proms
August 2012

Back in May 2009, when David Alden's production of Peter Grimes opened at ENO headquarters, The Coliseum, it was described as being (then) Edward Gardner's finest hour. As this BBC Proms 2012 presentation showed, it remains so. The playing of the ENO Orchestra, augmented beyond pit size I believe (and including Chris Richards, clarinettist from the LSO) was top-class and very experienced in its role; good too that these musicians were visible; so often they are unseen heroes. Gardner's pacing, musically and dramatically, and for whipping up a storm, was impressive and convincing, the Interludes, not least the Passacaglia (with a fine viola solo from Amélie Roussel) integrated into the whole. The ENO Chorus was also on superb form; terrifying when calling Peter Grimes by name in Act III; yet however transfixing this was, some loons in the audience managed to applaud into the pregnant silence. Unbelievable!

The cast was largely the same from three years ago, save for Iain Paterson replacing Gerald Finley as Captain Balstrode. Paterson gave a notable and convincing account of a man halfway between being part of the bigoted community and showing sympathy for the ostracised Peter Grimes, whose only true friend is Ellen Orford, here given a very human portrayal by Amanda Roocroft. Mark Richardson, as Swallow, replaced Matthew Best at short notice, and gave the impression of having always been there. Felicity Palmer (Mrs Sedley) and Rebecca de Pont Davies (Auntie) and Leigh Melrose as a spiv-like Ned Keene were also notable.

As for the Grimes of Stuart Skelton, he was magnificent, more to Vickers than other predecessors, but very much his own fisherman! He is a genuine and fearless Heldentenor, with a bel canto bias. He lived Grimes's persecution, nightmares and isolation, and brought out well his volatility. His outbursts were frightening, his dreams tangible; one recalls a perfect crescendo on "Now the Great Bear and Pleiades", one of many musical niceties that informed Skelton's patrician assumption of the deeply disturbed Grimes.

This slightly-staged concert performance worked well, the remainder of the cast impressive, coming and going as necessary, sometimes tailored (a seaman's cap, a dog collar, seemingly undirected, and this was certainly one of the highlights of this Proms season, and a fine showcase for English National Opera.

Text © Colin Anderson
Photo © Robert Workman
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