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January 31, 2014updated 11 Jan 2016 2:40pm

Review of Peter Grimes at the ENO

By Spear's

I’m utterly blown away by the ENO’s revival of David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes. Everyone is raving about this revival and I shall rave too.

The huge ENO chorus, with extras recruited for this opera, was on stunning form; their heaving vocal power and strong diction not to mention incredible physical performance (superbly choreographed by Maxine Braham) had such a powerful and resonating impact I’m still trying to digest. They contributed to one of the most wonderful productions I’ve seen at the ENO in a very long time.

Grimes, brought forward to the 1940s, is set in a remote east coast fishing town which shows us that mob mentality and gossip still supersede reason and that despite being church-going folk, they are ready to cast the first stone.

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As the townsfolk mercilessly cry for a scapegoat, there are resonances of Weimar Germany reflected in an oppressive set and ambiguous characters such as the bizarre pair of mentally disturbed nieces excellently sung by Mary Bevan and Rhian Lois and a lesbian pub landlady who resembles a Berlin Cabaret host. As if this opera isn’t creepy enough, Alden has provided another layer of sinister references with heightened cartoonish quality.

Stuart Skelton as the troubled Grimes, unaware of his physicality and temper, is simply superb; he manages some incredible vocal lines from falsetto into a full blown tenor belt, without the hint of a gear change, a stunning and impressive vocal trick to pull off.

Elza van den Heever is perfectly cast as the motherly Ellen Orford, having the perfect balance of youth and authority and although I would have liked to have heard a straighter tone in the Embroidery Aria (as expressly marked by Britten in the score), nevertheless she still possessed a lovely vocal quality and timbre.

Iain Patterson was an impressive Captain Balstrode. There were some incredible scenes, namely the onset of the storm, which the townsfolk revel in by way of a surreal orgy and an impressively choreographed sea shanty, and the absence of surtitles and dimmed orchestra lights during Grimes’ last scene was an effective touch.

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Special mentions must also go to Rebecca de Pont Davies as Auntie (the lesbian landlady) for her stunning singing and eye-catching delivery and to Leigh Melrose as Ned Keene and Matthew Trevino as Hobson; what a lovely rich tone he has.

I was so in awe of this incredible opera I’ve already booked to go again so I urge you to go and see Peter Grimes at the ENO. The best of British is on stage conducted by Edward Gardner at his most intense. You won’t be disappointed by this powerful, moving and emotional journey but you’ll probably need a nip of gin, which the townsfolk are so fond of, afterwards.

Follow Melinda on Twitter @melhugsopera

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