Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur has made an interesting choice for its first production of 2015 – Benjamin Britten’s ‘Peter Grimes’.
This is the opera which launched Britten internationally as “the leading British composer of his generation and which almost single-handedly revived English opera”, according to the Britten Pears Foundation.
Britten’s haunting and dramatic work, which has just opened, was inspired by a narrative poem, The Borough, by Suffolk poet, George Crabbe. Although the ‘borough’ in which the opera is set is fictional, it does share similarities with Aldeburgh, the town on England’s east coast where Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, made their home.
The libretto for the opera was adapted by the English poet, novelist, playwright and librettist, Montagu Slater and tells the of the uneasy relationship which exists between the Aldeburgh fisherman, Peter Grimes, and the villagers of the town. Following the death of Grimes’ apprentice during a storm at sea, the fisherman is presumed by the local community to be responsible, and although Grimes is cleared at the coroner’s inquest, he is no longer considered to be trustworthy. 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 Pears were deeply involved in drafting the story, resulting in Grimes being portrayed less as a villain – as his character had been painted in Crabbe’s poem – and more as a victim of both fate and society. The fisherman nevertheless remains a somewhat dark and mysterious character, and ultimately audiences are left to draw their own conclusions about what actually happened, about Grimes himself, and about the other leading characters in the opera.
Britten said that his aim was “to express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends on the sea”, which is also a reflection of a common theme which runs through his operatic works – “the individual against the mass, and the corruption of innocence”. (Source: Britten Pears Foundation).
Peter Grimes was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and “dedicated to the memory of Natalie Koussevitzky”, wife of the Russian-born American conductor Serge Koussevitzky.
The role of Peter Grimes is sung by John Graham Hall, the schoolteacher, Ellen Orford – whom Grimes had hoped to marry – by Fabienne Jost, and Balstrode – one of Grimes’ few supporters – by Vincent Le Texier.
The Orchestra and Chorus of Opéra de Nice are conducted by Bruno Ferrandis, music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony in California.
The production runs until January 24th. For further information and to buy tickets online, visit the Opéra de Nice website.
Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur
4, rue Saint-François de Paule
Lead image Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo; Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Aldeburgh, home of the Aldeburgh Festival which they founded © Hans Wild – courtesy of the Britten Pears Foundation