Sunday, October 18, 2009

PETER GRIMES more notes

Now the buzz has eased, and before I see it again, and again, there are some little niggling things in my head to let out.

The production concept, that the church hall set would be the place of story telling and the scenes would be carried on the music and the drama, seems to be an evolution from the rehearsal process. At the symposium, everyone referred to the loss that was the audience's not being involved in the development and rehearsal progression. It is as if they brought it to us just completed. Or rather took us to them, there, in this case the OA rehearsal space, the Marrickville Town Hall.

Britten, like Wagner, needs little help from the stage, and risks negative inhibition from insenstive ego centric directors, the music is so perfectly explicit. So the concept is good and the concept worked well, really well, except to the point where it breached of its own philosophy and slipped into the over demonstrative. I am not saying Armfield is insenstive or ego centric, nothing is farther from the truth. He has clearly defined his role as not getting in the way of the music, with an impeccable pedigree.

This was always going to be a fine line, just where to leave the imagination behind and display literality. The most obvious example for me, jarring to the point that it broke the 'spell', was Peter dragging the boat through the hall, which of course he wasn't, he was dragging it ashore. I wonder if these moments, another was the boys pulling the ropes across stage, wouldn't have been better mimed.

Where it worked, and that was virtually always, it was sublime and magical and inspired.

Closely associated with all this is the use of Dr Crabbe, a silent presence in the work as written, and here expanded to omnipresence (in Peter Carroll's exquisitely delicate hands) of varying degrees of dramatic penetration. Again I think the concept is wonderful, but lessened perhaps by going just, if not too far, then maybe a little too often. More viewing will help me. There were times when it was just so right - the presentation, for want of a better expression, to the court, the audience, the world, of his Peter, and his final consolation, as if now guardian angel. But there were moments in between where his presence seemed to break the dramatic pulse and pull me back out of the story making me feel a watcher where I had been a participant. I resented that a little at the time.

My other reservation, and I am loathe to mention it before going back, first night issues and all that, was Catherine Carby's Auntie. She is the foil for Balstrode. She too has an ear to both sides. Up against such tremendously powerful performances as the others were, Carby seemed not completely into the role, perhaps too young, neither worldly enough nor mother enough. But that is all pencilled in.

The male support cast was fine. Noone should be left out of praise in the production. It is exceptionally excellent throughout.


Smorg said...

Apt critique (as usual)! :o) I must confess to not liking the opera when it was staged here earlier this year... Wished it was conceptualized a bit (but then San Diego is such a conservative city that perhaps I was in the minority). I can see how that can also be overdone, though... but at least it'd be interesting.

Thanks a bunch for all your opera posts! I hope I'll get to witness the Australian opera scene live one of these days. You have me intrigued!

Cheerio from opera-deprived (for now) San Diego,
Smorgy :o)

wanderer said...

Smorg, this Peter Grimes will travel to Houston next year to complete Neil Armfield's run of 4 Britten works there - Turn of the Screw, Billy Budd, and Midsummers Night Dream already done. Casting I don't know about.

Don't give up on it. If the Jon Vickers/Heather Harper Covent Garden (1981) DVD should come up on the radar, grab it.

Sarah said...

I share some of your reservations about Catherine. It would be interesting to see and hear Jacqui Dark (who is covering the role) - quite a different presence and a more expansive, warmer voice as well. That said, when it came to writing it all up, I couldn't really bring myself to write anything that wasn't praise, because honestly, how could I?

wanderer said...

Exactly. I agree and that's why I ended up with this separate guarded post on those little quibbles. Plus I needed to get my first thoughts down before reading anything else.

I'll be interested to hear you on the Dr Crabbe device, which it is really.

Sarah said...

I've been wondering whether Dr Crabbe mightn't warrant a little post-ette all to himself. We'll see.