The drama and tragedy of Benjamin Britten’s operatic masterpiece, Peter Grimes, is brought to the Riviera this month by Monte-Carlo Opera – with internationally renowned tenor José Cura in the title role.
This haunting tale of a somewhat dark and mysterious seafarer, set on the bleak and windswept coast of East Anglia, is the work which is credited with having established Britten as the leading British composer of his generation, and – according to the Britten-Pears Foundation – the work which “almost single-handedly revived English opera” when it premiered at Sadlers Wells in London in June 1945. It was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and “dedicated to the memory of Natalie Koussevitzky”, wife of the Russian-born American conductor Serge Koussevitzky.
Inspired by a narrative poem, The Borough, by Suffolk poet George Crabbe, the opera has a libretto adapted by the English poet, novelist and playwright Montagu Slater, and tells the of the uneasy relationship between Peter Grimes and the villagers of the town where he lives – the ‘Borough’ of Crabbe’s poem. Although the Borough is a fictional place, it shares many similarities with Britten’s hometown of Aldeburgh. Following the death of Grimes’ apprentice during a storm at sea, the fisherman is presumed by the local community to have been responsible, and although Grimes is cleared at the coroner’s inquest, he is no longer considered trustworthy, and when his new apprentice is found dead at the foot of the cliffs, Grimes’ life falls apart and he heads for a tragic breakdown.
Both Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, were deeply involved in drafting the story of the opera, and keen for Grimes to be portrayed less as the villain that Crabbe had described, and more as a victim of both fate and society. Ultimately, though, audiences are left to draw their own conclusions about Grimes, about what really happened, and the judgment of the other leading characters in the opera.
José Cura – a much sought-after tenor, and regarded as one of the greatest exponents of the Italian and French traditional repertoire – is famed for more than his operatic performances, which include those of Verdi’s Otello, Sansón in Saint-Saëns’ Sanson et Dalila, Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, and more recently, appearances in Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Peter Grimes. He is also a trained composer and conductor, an opera director and a stage designer, and in fact has to his credit the design and costumes in this Monte-Carlo Opera production.
As a conductor, José Cura has appeared with orchestras such as the London Philharmonia, the London Symphony, the Vienna Philharmonic, Sinfonia Varsovia, the Toscanini Orchestra, and the Hungarian Philharmonic. His stage design and direction for productions such as Sanson et Dalila, La Rondine, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci have been highly praised by both critics and audiences, and his eminence as a director of distinction has been confirmed by his staging of Otello at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, a new production of Puccini’s La Bohème for the Royal Swedish Opera, his Turandot at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, and Peter Grimes at the Bonn Opera House.
The role of the schoolteacher, Ellen Orford – whom Grimes had hoped to marry – is sung by Danish soprano Ann Petersen, described by Des Opernglas as “a true discovery”, and whose performance as Elisabeth in Wagner’s Tannhäuser – with Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper Berlin – as “superlative” by the Sunday Express. An ensemble member of the Royal Danish Opera, Ms Petersen has also appeared on the stages of the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Milan’s Teatro all Scala and Opéra National de Paris.
Balstrode – one of Grimes’ few supporters – is sung by Egyptian-born baritone Peter Sidhom – a role which he has sung at the Opéra Bastille and the Grand Théâtre de Genève. His “wonderfully dark Scarpia adds a riveting stage presence to his resonant voice” wrote Anthony Holden in the Observer, following a performance of Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
This Monte-Carlo Opera performance is led by British conductor Jan Latham-Koenig, Chief Conductor and Head of the Kolobov Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow, where recent performances include Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Richard Strauss’ Salome.
Maestro Latham-Koening leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Monte-Carlo Opera and Chorus (director Stefano Visconti), in a new production of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes – a co-production with Opera Berlin – at the Salle Garnier from February 20th to 28th.
For more information and reservations, visit the Monte-Carlo Opera website.
Opéra de Monte-Carlo
Place du Casino
Lead image Peter Grimes – Bonn courtesy Opéra de Monte-Carlo, © Thilo Beu