Monday, May 11, 2009


  Photo Tristam Kenton, The Guardian

English National Opera's new Peter Grimes, previewed here, has opened to glowing reviews of a sort rarely seen these days. Stuart Skelton's Peter is mentioned in the same sentence as Vickers. I don't know any other words more appropriate, except happiness, for him. This is likely a big milestone in his career, and we are about to share it in an Opera House near you, October 15.

Without taking anything away from the production, music direction and cast, I just want to focus on Stuart Skelton's achievement. The rest is there to read. 

The Guardian, with 5 stars:

"This superb company achievement has Stuart Skelton's towering performance at its heart, perfectly combining human frailties with an edge of brutality and moments of touching poetic insight – probably the most complete Grimes in London since Jon Vickers at Covent Garden in the late 1970s."

The Financial Times:

"...the lusty sensuousness of his voice means his Grimes is always more human than caricature".

The Times On Line:

"...Skelton’s nobly-sung Grimes.."

MusicOMH, with 5 stars:

"Stuart Skelton in the title role was nothing sort of sensational. Not only was his acting minutely observed but he sang this daunting role with apparent ease. He had the vocal heft to rattle the rafters in the explosive declamatory episodes and the ability to hone his voice down to barely a whisper for the more introspective moments. His mad scene was almost too painful to watch – a stunning performance."

The Independent, with 5 stars:

"...Stuart Skelton in the title role. If ever a singing actor combined the force of a Jon Vickers with the crazed inwardness of Pears, it is he."

... "This was no time to be different – and no one knew that better than Britten." 

(Nothing has changed; it can't change. We are trapped in a place of judgement. I can't wait to see this in Neil Armfield's hands.)


"Stuart Skelton ..[ ]..sings with touching purity of tone during the lyrical episodes such as ‘Now the Great Bear and Pleiades’ and with searing intensity during his outburst in the ‘Prologue’ and his ‘mad scene’ at the close.

Alden has said that Jon Vickers’s performance of the part was “the greatest thing one could ever see” – rightly so, no-one who saw Vickers’s Grimes can ever forget it. Nevertheless, Alden has still managed to elicit from Skelton a reading that respects the influence of his great predecessor yet also embraces touches of Philip Langridge and Anthony Rolfe Johnson. This is not to say it is a derivative performance – far from it, since I don’t think I’ve heard ‘In dreams I’ve built myself some kindlier home’ sung with such poignant fervour."

*(...this momentous staging is overwhelmingly moving: it is dedicated to the choreographer Claire Glaskin, who died in a car accident at the end of the first week of rehearsals, and she could hardly have a finer memorial.)

Telegraph UK, (with a 1.17 video whose judgemental commentator is the antithesis of what I believe Britten was on about):

"The burly Australian tenor Stuart Skelton sings Grimes with tremendous sinew and sureness..."


"..., it would be worth the trip to the Coliseum just for Stuart Skelton's performance as Grimes. His is truly one of the finest portrayals of any role I have ever seen. Alone amongst the cast, Skelton's performance is complete. On the one hand, he conveys Grimes' innocence whilst also making it clear that he's mentally disturbed, while on the other, the amount of colour he brings to his singing is remarkable. He's also alone, I feel, in fully achieving a Brittenesque style of singing. The finest Britten singers use vibrato in an expressive way that can be quite special, as Skelton shows, but too often the singing here was full-on and did not embrace the neo-Classical aspect of the music. Skelton, however, responds to the text on the most minute level, creating different sounds even within a single note: he makes the part very much his own."

The Sunday Times:

"It is the Grimes of the young Australian Stuart Skelton — surely the finest on a London stage since the celebrated Jon Vickers — who sets the seal on the evening. His burly frame and heldentenorish timbre do not preclude singing of the most inward and eloquent vulnerability in the Great Bear monologue and the Mad Scene."

The Observer:

"ENO's production is blessed with a magnificent Grimes in Stuart Skelton. Lumbering, vulnerable, bullying, helpless, the Australian tenor radiates a musical intelligence as electrifying as it is heartbreaking. He convincingly unites the visionary, floating lines of the loner desperate for the safe love of Ellen Orford, with the brutal yawls of the thug whose callousness leads to the deaths of his boy apprentices."

The May 23 performance will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on July 11, introduction here.

Some production pics can be seen here, posted by George Mott, NYC.

As I've said before, after the Sydney Grimes, Stuart Skelton sings Erik in SOSA's Flying Dutchman, as far as I can see the only staged Wagner in Australia (!) this year. I've heard Skelton in this theatre with this orchestra before, and I'll hear him again. 


WANDERER said...

Qantas have had Sydney-Adelaide flights on sale for $109 each way.

Sarah said...

This is all such good news, for him and for us. I'm more excited by the minute about October.
No Adelaide for me, alas, but I'm blaming the Abbé Prévost for that.

Imogen said...

I saw this ENO "Peter Grimes" last week and am still reeling from Mr Skelton's overwhelmingly powerful performance. By damn, that bloke's talented! He has a wonderful, marvellously controlled, expressive and lusciously heroic voice and he's an excellent actor; he was simply heartrendingly moving. I can't wait to hear and see him in action again, but I see from the web that he isn't scheduled to be singing in the UK again this year. Rats! I want more!
But, for me at least, talk about "a star is born". I saw him as Laca a couple of years ago, and thought he'd be a good Peter Grimes, but I had no idea how good.

WANDERER said...

Imogen, it is lovely to hear from someone fresh from seeing it. You lucky thing. As you have probably gathered, there is considerable expectation down here. I've booked twice, so far, for the Grimes, and am going to Adelaide for Dutchman.

Perhaps we met at Kew Gardens, where I spent a wonderful day in 2007, I think, the year you had the Mediterranean display as the temporary summer show. Rows of lavender in white pebble etc. And it was a crappy wet summer.

How did you find the Grimes production? It worried me, from afar admittedly, that Alden chose to define the apprentice's death as accidental, rather than preserve the ambiguity on which judgement founders.

Did you save the hospital?

JayZed said...

I saw the ENO's Peter Grimes as well. I thought the whole production was marvellous, but Skelton's performance stood out - it was really very special indeed.

Wanderer, it's true that the apprentice's death was played as an accident, but the ambiguity in Grimes' character (what you might call the tension between his brutality and his sensitivity) was definitely still there.

WANDERER said...

Thanks JayZed. I think what I was getting at was not so much any ambiguity is Grimes' character, but more that if (and this is how I see it at least) the 'moral' of the work is that to judge anyone for anything is inherently wrong (and this for me is Britten's essential message), then showing the death as accidental, when it is otherwise undefined, actually weakens the lesson, rather than strengthens it.