Friday, October 16, 2009

PETER GRIMES performance

Tonight we're finding comfort again in Sibelius' 7th (Vanska) - a haunting stream of consciousness on the mystery of existence, his final affirmation infused with necessary threads of doubt, in defence of doubt.

In the absence of doubt, there is festering certainty and the arrogance of fundamentalism, and never were they better exposed than in last night's Peter Grimes. Benjamin Britten's Grimes is a bleak and shocking expose of the malignancy of fear and its manifestation as judgement. In the hands of Mark Wigglesworth, Neil Armfield and the team that Richard Hickox had chosen, it is as magnificent as it is frightening.

The spectre of two ghosts haunt this production. First is that of the late Richard Hickox. This was as far forward as he had shone his light, I think, and 'now at last is gossip put to rest' in this (Hickox/Grimes) tragic story. And his ghost is heard mostly in his choice of Susan Gritton for Ellen Orford, a role debut as far as I can see (I didn't even manage to buy a programme, let alone anything else). All the other elements could have been pulled together one way or another without him (accepting Mark Wigglesworth as his worthy proxy) but Susan Gritton, risking the (already seeded) slur of outsider from our own village, comes as his final voice. And what a voice. And thank you.

The other is Dr Crabbe, written into the opera as a silent part by Britten and Slater, and enlarged by Armfield into the haunting presence of Grimes' creator, an almost transparency in Peter Carroll's exceptionally delicate nuanced portrayal, half otherworld, creator, father, guardian, angel. Nothing was more piercing than the heartbreaking moment of comfort for the deranged Peter and there I at least found the redemption I hoped for, if not from Britten, then from Peter Carroll and Neil Armfield. That was the moment we were told Peter was alright, if not the only one alright, the one to escape hell for his other place.

The curtain lifts and instantly we are there, inside the church community hall (Ralph Myers), the refuge from fear and the place of assembly for the weak seeking self reassurance. The scale of it, the immediacy and accuracy and detail is breathtaking and transporting. From the harrowing moment of Peter's first delivery to the mob, to his final delivery to his fate, it is this immediacy and detail and the clear reality of it all that is totally consuming. And overarching this, carried on the urgent musical direction of Wigglesworth of equal clarity and revelation, is the great moral tale, whose grinding inevitability was never lost for a second in the minutiae of its many segments; on the contrary, if ever something was greater than the sum of its parts, this is it. Like every stitch in Tess Schofield's costumes and the finished cloth. You are overwhelmed by the whole while stunned by the detail.

The lighting (Damien Cooper) was stunning, and beautiful, and frightening.

It is hard to describe Stuart Skelton's Peter, coming here after so much praise, a Peter less angry than I imagined from his London run, a Peter of aching sadness, a bewildered innocent. Sympathy, if not empathy, and empathy is what Skelton asks from us, is engaged from his first faltering guided entry. It is a towering total performance brilliantly nurtured by Armfield. The moment of the boy's fatal fall is one of the most inspired moments I've seen on stage. If you miss this, may God have mercy on your soul.

Susan Gritton came silently. No fanfare, little publicity, a virtual unknown down here to many. She is small, quite delicate, especially next to big Stuart, and hesitant and reserved, almost as shy as Peter, in fact another innocent I think. They are beautifully matched these innocents, outsiders together. Her declaration of failure, with its precipitous violent response and death sentence self declared, is far more understandable than that from the more arch somewhat older matronly more determined Ellens. Her pacing was magnificent, and her final meditative was of beauty and power unequalled. It is that most of all I need again, the fix, the rush, the endorphins, the beauty, the power, the unexpectedness of it.

Linking Peter and Ellen to the mob is the Captain, a wonderful character really, able to see enough into each thought system to be mediator and final decision maker, a terribly difficult role to straddle, beautifully handled by Peter Coleman-Wright, in for me a defining role, perfect for his voice and style. He is in someways the other angel on stage, the voice of each side.

I'll talk more later about the brilliant Elizabeth Campbell and her tense contained Mrs Sedley, never sliding into caricature, the unbelievably beautifully realised nieces/twins of Lorina Gore and Tarin Feibig, vocally perfect, that's perfect, dressed and lit to perfection, almost to transparency, they too now I think about it are more innocents abroad, despite whatever else they do upstairs, and who join the mob in condemnation as children do, these giggly sweet girls. Did I mention the quartet?

And the mighty chorus. As Mark Wigglesworth said, Britten could have called this The Village People. I don't pretend for a minute to understand what has gone into getting this choral masterpiece so right, so explosively powerful, balanced, with a downstage force and dynamic control to curl your hair. Thank you, thank you. And was ever a chorus better lit, or choreographed?

More, much more later. There are many more.

(It is Saturday morning now - the fabulous alto of Johnny Somerville is belting out 'Coming - at last I am free' - from Orlando. No, we don't have neighbours. Things are settling down, at least till next Wednesday.)

Sarah has already uploaded this videocast. Here it is again just to reinforce why words fail.

I am reminded of reading recently of a tattooed barely literate Texan man who was executed, a 1 minute to midnight plea of stay in view of evidence refused by the State after 10 minutes perusal, for the murder of his 2 children who were burnt to death in their house. There was an electrical fault.

Britten is looking at many things here and capital punishment is not the least of them. Sanctioned murder by those decrying murder, Mrs Sedley.


Sarah said...

Speaking of video, I think I may have to embed this one on the blog too:

wanderer said...

reposting that link:

double raptures here too

she can sing like a bell, like Joan, and the loveliest trill