"This new production satisfies every musical wish."
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
The greatest British composer of the 20th century, Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) single-handedly put British opera on the map with "Peter Grimes." Officially his second opera (after the folkloristic student piece "Paul Bunyan" of 1941), "Peter Grimes" burst upon the operatic world with the force and fury of a major revelation. Hailed as a masterpiece, it was staged a dozen times internationally within three years of its premiere at Sadler's Wells on 7 June 1945. Leonard Bernstein led the U.S. premiere at Tanglewood the following year, for example.
The lushly orchestrated work features all the ingredients of a traditional grand opera. There are intricate and powerful choruses and "whistleably" songful melodies. And there is a great, solitary central role that unites lyrical sensitivity and brute force: the figure of Peter Grimes, the outsider. The driven, lonely fisherman hopes to win prosperity, recognition and the hand of the pretty young teacher Ellen Orford. But the death of his young apprentice, though ruled an accident, arouses suspicion among the people. And when his second apprentice falls from a cliff, the gossip-mongering community is certain that Grimes is a killer...
"Zurich could not have found a better Grimes than Christopher Ventris, who mixes burly presence with subtle lyricism and tireless power," wrote the Sunday Telegraph. And Ventris is clearly the star of this production. His supple, clear articulation brings out countless facets of the hounded yet rebellious fisherman. And while his warm timbre colors his character with gentleness, he also commands the dramatic potential to convincingly express Grimes's impulsiveness and brutality. As Ellen Orford, Emily Magee presents an ideal counterpart to Ventris with her glowing soprano and womanly radiance.
Director David Pountney and his set designer Robert Israel have created a metaphorical landscape dominated by suspended chairs. Sitting on them are various townspeople accomplishing minor chores – and observing everything around them. An omnipresent community as an emblem for the never-ending pressure weighing upon Grimes. While the maritime atmosphere is suggested on stage by planks and masts, it literally engulfs the orchestra pit, where Franz Welser-Möst entices a roiling accompaniment from the orchestra, now diaphanous, now iridescent, often howling with gale force (wood)winds. Welser-Möst discreetly proves that in "Peter Grimes," the second lead role is played by the orchestra.