Take an opera out of the opera house and
put it into the concert hall and a number of things can happen. An indifferent production that detracts from
the musical values can soar in these circumstances, as happened with the Royal
Opera’s recent Troyens prom, or the stripping of a great
staging can expose weaknesses that weren’t previously apparent.
Neither was the case with ENO’s
prom of Peter Grimes.
David Alden’s 2009 realisation, one of the most exciting and insightful
for decades, could hardly have been improved upon but its absence on this
occasion revealed no faults in the thrilling playing of the ENO Orchestra
under Edward Gardner. Every detail was
meticulously executed in a performance by turns fiery and radiantly beautiful. The Royal Albert Hall’s organ brought a
dimension to the church scene that could never be achieved in a theatre.
The company managed to give a
strong flavour of Alden’s vision, with an unusually complex semi-staging that
included some semblance of costume and use of props such as a full-length rope
hauled across the width of the RAH’s podium.
Many of the vivid
characterizations – Rebecca de Pont Davies’s extraordinary Auntie, Leigh
Melrose’s superb Ned Keene and Felicity Palmer’s inquisitive old bag of a Mrs Sedley
– remained intact. If the extreme
weirdness of the Nieces was lost in the attractiveness of Gillian Ramm and Mairéad
Buicke in little black dresses, there was still something highly affecting in
their portrayals of these waifs as dysfunctional victims.
Amanda Roocroft’s Ellen Orford had
a rather squally outing in the Royal Opera’s revival last year and here she was
for the most part back to form, although the quartet of women in Act 2 (“From
the gutter”), surely the most beautiful passage in all modern opera, didn't
quite rise to the heights it can.
Roocroft often suffers from ragged diction but she is still one of our finest
singing actresses, bringing great sympathy and insight to every role. Iain Paterson, new to Balstrode, and the only
leading replacement of the night, was strong as the old sea dog and it’s a portrayal that should bloom once it’s taken on
to the stage.
Above all, Stuart Skelton’s Grimes
has grown in stature and now sits alongside the very finest interpretations of the
role. I commented in my review of the
2009 production that vocally he’s poised between the heft of Vickers and the
lyricism of Pears or Langridge, and that stands. It’s a voice of great beauty, which has
everything the part demands, from the exquisite pianissimos of the Pleiades
aria to the ferocious power of “And God have mercy upon me,” sung effortlessly
with a strapping lad over one shoulder.
Bewilderment haunts Skelton’s
Grimes, as though events, even of his own making, are moving too fast
and sweeping him away in inevitable tragedy. His final scene, where much
of the singing is unaccompanied, was if anything more haunting and moving than
it was in the theatre. In a stroke of
inspiration, Grimes then disappeared into a sea of people, as he left through
the arena and was slowly lost to sight. We
really should be seeing Skelton’s Siegmund at Covent Garden this autumn but
sadly that’s not the case.
The ENO Chorus was also
exceptional and this was altogether an evening of the highest musical standards.