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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Opera Review: Fish Story

The Met's new Peter Grimes.
Ellen Orford (Patricia Racette) and Peter Grimes (Anthony Dean Griffey)
Photos © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
In the new Metropolitan Opera production of Peter Grimes, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey has made the towering title role his very own. As the outcast fisherman with a terrible temper (and even worse luck), you're never really sure when Griffey's Grimes goes 'round the bend--and that's what makes his performance so powerful.

A remarkable singing actor, Griffey brings pathos to the soft, lyric moments of the score, yet packs plenty of power in his voice for the mad scenes and sudden rages that are Grimes' dark side. The entire performance is harrowing in its intensity, and stands proudly next to other great Grimeses of the past: Peter Pears, John Vickers and Philip Langridge.

Mr. Griffey is perfectly matched with soprano Patricia Racette, who sets aside the kimonos of Butterfly and the glitter of Violetta to play Ellen Orford, the schoolmistress in Grimes' village (the Borough) and his only friend in the world. Her compassion for Peter never falters, even when he descends into madness and violence.

Mrs. Sedley, the town gossip who riles the Borough up against Grimes, receives a sharp-edged portrayal from Felicity Palmer. John Del Carlo makes Swallow a sonorous comic character with his fine bass. Anthony Michaels-Moore was an able, sympathetic Captain Balstrode.

The Met chorus and orchestra were at their finest last night. The chorus was a model of tight, precise singing, handling Britten's complicated vocal lines with ease. The orchestra played superbly under the baton of Sir Donald Runnicles, providing accent and subtlety in their vocal accompaniment. The famous Sea Interludes were another highlight, with the smell of salt and the kiss of spray rising from the orchestra put under Runnicles' superb direction.

Curiously, John Doyle's spare production featured little in the way of oceanic or naval trappings. Most of the action took place before a giant wooden curtain with rustic doors all over it, representing walls and buildings within the Borough. The doors worked well for quick entrances and exits, suggesting streets, the tavern, or Grimes' pathetic little oceanside hut. Sliding walls made the acting space more and more claustrophobic, until the walls literally closed in on the doomed Grimes. It was an effective staging--dark and dour as Britten's protagonist.


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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.