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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Abuse of Innocence

A boy – an apprentice to the fisherman Peter Grimes – dies at sea. At the inquest, Grimes has to answer for the death. Was it an accident? Was it due to neglect? Or was it something worse? Most of the townspeople have already made up their minds. Only one or two, such as the schoolmistress Ellen Orford, can see any redeeming features in Grimes. But when, later, another apprentice goes missing, not even Ellen’s compassion can save him.

The Opera, Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten introduces us to a complex, on-the-edge outsider. The stormy music and sweeping orchestral beauty of the score underline the poverty and the incautious nature of a character who is at once a visionary, impetuous, ambitious and frustrated scapegoat trapped in a community still trying to lift itself out of a feudal world.

Opera North’s revived production of Peter Grimes with many of the original cast members, including Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as Grimes and Giselle Allen as Ellen Orford has won a string of awards. The modernist piece is regarded as a historical turning point in the history of opera – particularly British opera.

Conducter Richard Farnes and Director Phyllida Lloyd encourage a massive performance from Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as a haunted giant of a man who conceals an undeveloped child within. He has a wonderful tenor voice and doesn’t falter for a second, presenting a beautiful interpretation of mood and character.

The chorus, fishermen and their women and the local judge and priest and innkeeper of the village, often in counterpoint to the principle singers moves effortlessly from pious congregation to bloodthirsty rabble and back again.

This production offers a more symbolic, darker and atmospheric interpretation than usual, refusing to shy away from the sex, politics, and violence which form an undeniable subplot to the main narrative.

The congregation are depicted in key scenes with their back to the action of the principle players and they chant liturgical phrases, oblivious to the drama which is taking place within their community. And there are two wonderful scenes involving a net hanging through the centre of the stage. The net is manipulated by fishermen from the outside, as though casting or lifting shoals of fish, while inside the women mend holes and at some point the whole village seems as though it is caught there.

The music, the direction, the pathos, drama, and voices were compelling and mesmerizing.

After Leeds the tour continues in Nottingham, The Lowry at Salford Quays, The Grand Opera House in Belfast, Sadler’s Wells in London, and finally at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.

Don’t miss it.

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