Friday, March 14, 2008

The Opera - Part I - "Peter Grimes"


Finally, John D and NancyP, here is the first episode.

For a long time I have wanted to hear an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. I've tried several times to get a ticket, but I have been unsuccessful in matching an opera ticket for a performance that I wanted to hear with the time that I was to be in the city, because my visits are usually short. Then, too, most times Grandpère was with me, and he doesn't like opera.

Since I am 73 years old, going to an opera at the Met was on my list of things I want to do before I die. A brochure arrived from Smithsonian Tours offering four operas in four nights with lectures from an opera expert before each opera, Renée Fleming as Desdemona in "Otello", and a backstage tour of the Met. I jumped in. I have longed to hear Fleming in a live performance after hearing her gorgeous voice only on recordings. I could not resist. It was expensive, but I gave myself a treat.

Our first opera was Britten's "Peter Grimes", which I considered would be my least favorite of the four. However, I found it to be much more compelling than I expected. The tenor, Anthony Dean Griffey, who sang the part of Peter Grimes was excellent and strong both in voice and acting. He's a powerfully built man and totally believable in the part of the ostracized fisherman in the small, claustrophobic English fishing village. The other singers were also quite good, especially Patricia Racette as Ellen Orford, who wants to save Peter, and Felicity Palmer as Mrs. Sedley, the gossipy widow who eggs the others on to turn against Peter.

The opera reminded me of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", with the small community, which includes a good many small-minded folks, inclined to the herd instinct, with the resulting recipe for tragedy. Not that I didn't know the story, but the portentousness from the first moment was palpable in the opera, in a manner which reminded me of the play.

The opera includes the "Four Seas Interludes" orchestral pieces, which divide the acts and serve to set the scene for the next act, and are often performed in concert on their own. The first of the interludes I found especially beautiful.

From the first moments, I was caught up in the story and the music, and I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. The singing and the acting in "Peter Grimes" were both excellent. I appreciate an opera in which the acting is treated with the same importance as the singing, since opera is, after all, a dramatic presentation.

Apparently, quite a few did not like the set, which consisted of large moving rectangles, covered with material to resemble the rough boards of a fisherman's shack, nearly as high as the very tall opening of the Met stage, with doors at different levels, in which the characters appeared to perform from time to time. The doors swung open and closed spookily on their own and, to me, worked to good effect to help set the mood. Most of those who did not like the set had seen other performances of the opera, with the set consisting of a more realistic representation of a fishing village. All in all, a good evening.

Photo from the New York Times.

Conductor - Donald Runnicles
Hobson - Dean Peterson
Swallow - John Del Carlo
Peter Grimes - Anthony Dean Griffey
Mrs. Sedley - Felicity Palmer
Ellen Orford - Patricia Racette
Auntie - Jill Grove
Bob Boles - Greg Fedderly
Captain Balstrode - Anthont Michaels-Moore
Rev. Horace Adams - Bernard Fitch
Two nieces - Leah Partridge, Erin Morley
Ned Keene - Teddy Tahu Rhodes