Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Well if you thought I was about to rabbit on again about death and the never-ending pursuit of what you have already, then lucky you.

It is Peter Grimes I'm worked up about and judgement is the one word answer I'd give if asked what I thought Grimes was about. All this was looping around in my head on this morning's walk (the old dog mostly stays behind these days, with little stiff legged, smiley tail-wagging, always tail-wagging, short walks around the house gardens followed by long sleeps in the shed where swallows swoop) and now I'm back only to find Opera Australia's Allerta had arrived and it is a good one too - the Peter Grimes issue.

What was occupying me on the walk was that word, that judgement word, and Britten and religion, religious belief, and particularly Christianity, the essence of which (if one is to ignore the institutions whose inversion of truth is without equal), as I understand the M/man, revolves around what judgement is and what are its consequences. This then, for me, makes Peter Grimes a particularly Christian work. I emphasise this thought had absolutely nothing to do with the authorities working under said banner to whom I am no subscriber.

Britten and his beliefs are to be inferred, from scholarship, interviews of self and others, from letters, from biography, and mostly surely from his music. One interesting exemplar is his transforming of the (Buddhist) Japanese Noh play Sumidagawa, which affected him enormously, into a Christian parable, Curlew River (which affected me permanently). This you could claim was on purely musical and structural necessity, but I doubt it.

Crunching along the track this morning, the ground moist again and the air quite chilly, I was struck by how powerfully relevant is the set concept of Neil Armfield (director) and Ralph Myers (set design) - the Church Hall (as place of story-telling). Some of these things were raised at the Britten symposium, of which there is a podcast, far better that than taking my word.

The OA's Allerta has interviews with conductor Mark Wigglesworth, Stuart Skelton, Susan Gritton and Peter Coleman-Wright. Read them; you must read them. They're also on the main AO News Page. For those needing tit-bits to convince them:


To his mind, Peter Grimes’ greatness lies in the way it puts across, in dramatic and musical terms, a powerful message that still holds true today. Grimes is rejected by his community because they don’t understand him, and an important part of the story is what that rejection does to the community. “It’s a profound and terrifying story, expressed with shattering directness and simplicity.”

“Britten could easily have called this opera The Village People!


When you’ve sung the final scene and you’re greeted by a deathly silence from the audience…you know that they have been completely destroyed. If you get that reaction twice in a run of performances, it’s sensational.”

This is luxury (casting) – Opera Australia has gone nuts!


What is your favourite CD? Geoffrey Tozer playing Medtner solo piano works. He is one of the finest musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. We recorded some Medtner songs together for his series on Chandos.

And from you local Fish Shop, you can do a lot worse than get very ready, because get set, and go, are not far away:

Britten conducts Britten (the ending is shattering)
BBC Studio Britten conducts (legendary 1969 with Pears filmed in the role he created)

After all that, I have more questions than I started with. Why did Britten stop the music, stop the vocal line, and use the spoken word for the verdict? And is there redemption anywhere to be found?

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