Peter Grimes, 2015

Review from 'Opera' Magazine

Reproduced from the May 2015 edition of Opera, the world's leading opera magazine

Watching Bath Opera's Peter Grimes in the relatively confined space of the 200-seater Wroughton Theatre (on the King Edward's School campus) I fell to wondering, again, where one-off runs of simple stagings would be these days without video projections, as manipulative and interpretative in their way as surtitles were once perceived to be. This Grimes came with footage of heaving seas and tumbling clouds projected onto a scrim at the back, with two fragile panels stage left and right pressed into service for the various Borough locations. Neil Kirkman, who both designed and directed, chose a '60s-informed contemporary look for the costumes - a bit of a stretch for a workhouse apprentice and positively hypothermic for the scantily clad Nieces, but otherwise workable. He played a sure hand with the principals, who were all vididly characterized - even if the lightning flashes accompanying Grimes's bursting into the Boar were pure panto - and neatly made all the points about the Borough's double standards.

Under the music director Peter Blackwood the orchestral volume was punishly loud at full tilt, but for the most part the playing caught the power of the score if not all its subtleties, and with only 13 string players you could more keenly hear how Britten assembled the nuts and bolts of the score. There was the occassional flare-up of panic from the chorus, torn between vivid emoting and conductor fixation, and they raised the roof impressively.

Any slight misgivings, though, were rendered unimportant by the authority of the two leads. Rupert Drury's Grimes was consistently well acted. Far from being a looming hulk, he seemed locked into his singularity and sullen awkwardness, and Drury made Grimes's disintegration all the more powerful by his being so vulnerable and baffled. His singing, intially a bit dry, sweetened and broaded into a fine 'Great Bear and Pleiades' and a disturbing mad scene. It was a compelling performance.

Julia O'Connor had the stillness and self-possession to set Ellen apart from the crowd, and her warm voice and fluent acting made the context of Ellen's 'Embroidery' song and her fractured relationship with Grimes all the more poignant. Niall Hoskins's securely-sung Balstrode was the regulation pipe-smoking old salt, portrayed with pragmatic humanity and a well-drawn detachment from the crowd. Judy Davis's Auntie and the two Nieces from Regan Gardner and Laura Curry risked comparison with characters from television's Little Britain, but all three sang well. Alexandra Denman projected Mrs Sedley's spite and hypocrisy with brio, and Andrew Havers's vigourously sung Ned Keene was just as convincingly duplicitous. Richard Hathway's drunken Bob Boles and Robert Marson's pompous Swallow fell irredeemably and entertainingly into caricature, as did Philip Styles's hard-wringing, Carry-On-style Reverend Adams.

Peter Reed

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