Weather-beaten it is not, stormy, most definitely, stirring, without a doubt.
The award-winning production of Peter Grimes returns for a revival with most of the original cast from the 2006 season at Opera North and is full of all the elements of this great production of Grimes which made it special last time. Those who were fortunate enough to see last time should do so again and those that weren't should most certainly get a ticket.
Britten's opera is a staple warhorse of many an opera company but to differing degrees of success. Some may find that it is not the easiest music to the ear; you are required to give it your full attention in order to fully appreciate the dramatic and underlining social implications of the text.
Thankfully, director Phyllida Lloyd allows the listener to fully appreciate the lavish score by avoiding the temptation to clutter with unnecessary stage effects. Minimal seems to be the word here, which works creatively with the use of cast and chorus in introducing the various scenes and locations of this small and insular fishing community.
Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts in the title role gives a fine and moving performance. He conveys every aspect of Grimes' character, from his bear-like brutality to his loving, almost childlike naivety, finally to the extremes of pure madness. However I have heard him sing this role better and presume that he was not at his best at this opening night; the voice seemed tired and restricted, with a lack of colour to his register. Regardless of this, his interpretation and his skill for acting could not be argued with.
A strong supporting cast is required and here once again we were treated to a fine ensemble. Christopher Purves, who must be one of the hottest properties in the opera world, gave a commanding and caring Captain Balstrode; Giselle Allen as Ellen Orford, maternal to the core and torn between her belief in what is right and wrong and her love of a misunderstood man, gave a beautiful and stirring vocal performance. Yvonne Howard as the matriarchal host (Auntie) of the Boar's Head ruled time and delivered some of the most beautiful vocal phrasing I have heard for a long time. The women's quartet between Allen (Orford), Howard (Auntie) and Amy Freston and Claire Booth as the Nieces, was exquisite. Strong too was the pimpish apothecary Ned Keene played by Roderick Williams.
Musically this was a rollercoaster emotional performance by conductor Richard Farnes and the Orchestra of Opera North. Farnes may have seemed quiet and reserved in some other recent productions but he can certainly pack a punch with this score. The four Sea Interludes were perfection; combined with the powerful and dramatically sensitive chorus, Farnes brought the whole company together with energetic artistry.
This production works because the major components of the opera - the orchestra, the singers, the text and the staging - combine into one ultimate single entity. It is not only realistic but thought-provoking and challenging to the mind and conscience as well.
Miss it at your peril.
By Paul Dalton
In repertory and on national tour until March 2008.