A stunning performance of great intensity, with orchestra, conductor and singers working so seamlessly together, the chorus as vital a character as the soloists. Indeed, Britten saw it as the individual against the collective - which is not quite how George Crabbe saw it; Britten does make Grimes into a more ambiguous character, rather than an out-and-out villain. (There is thus more room for character development, and at one some point - which I shall come to - Grimes appears as much victim as villain).
But let me start at the beginning, with a few words about the staging, which is quite minimalist; an almost bare stage for the investigation into the death of Grimes' apprentice, with the Chorus - suspicious, hostile villagers - at the back of the stage as spectators. Grimes (Stuart Skelton) climbs on the table to make his point to the hostile witnesses and spectators.
The second scene also is set indoors, the set later becomes the Boar -
complete with an Auntie (Rebecca du Pont Davies) straight out of Berlin cabaret. Nothing to do with PETER GRIMES, but a wonderful characterisation!! (The characterisation seems to be based on a specific painting by Otto Dix)
Stuart Skelton is unsurpassable as Grimes; the role takes the tenor through a whole range of vocal colouring, from sullenness and anger in the first Act, to beauty of tone in the sad, lyrical 'in dreams I've built myself some kindlier home'...because that's all it is, dreams. This is a side of Grimes' nature that the villagers never see, and he is never able to let it flourish....
Fine sentiments, and beautifully expressed, although Grimes has been seen not only terrorising the apprentice but striking Ellen.....but Britten gives the tenor and the orchestra such beautiful music to express this impossible dream.
He is well matched by the mellow, warm tones of Elza van den Heever as Ellen. Ellen too is a complex character, and Elza van den Heever gave a subtle, nuanced performance. The quartet with Auntie and the nieces was very moving.
Praise also for Iain Paterson as the old sea-dog Balstrode, who stands aside from the rest of the villagers and is not entirely unsympathetic to Grimes.