Gritton, Wyn-Rogers, Palmer; Graham-Hall, Purves, von Bergen, Okulich; Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Ticciati. Production: Jones. Opus Arte 1103 D, 168 mins., subtitled
Peter Grimes came to La Scala just two seasons after its 1945 premiere, with Tullio Serafin leading Giacinto Prandelli and Suzanne Danco in italiano. But Britten's works have only recently become standard fare in Italy; Richard Jones's 2012 staging presented here marks Milan's first locally generated Grimes since 1947. Only the chorus and orchestra are Italian; Jones, rising conductor Robin Ticciati and most of the singers came from Britain. As in Neil Armfield's Sydney–Houston coproduction, Jones's keenly lit staging focuses on a grim, Thatcherism-ravaged Borough, with only spectral traces of intimate economic links to the sea. This renders the Sea Interludes — beautifully played — largely decorative. The choristers look like Milanese dressed uncharacteristically badly; for their sonorous work, subtitles help. But Peter's isolation and victimization by the dissatisfied mob scarcely require an antiquated setting. Jones introduces the characters effectively, and the singers all know their business in this idiom (and world). Occasional odd unison blocking and spasmodic choreography, such as the pub scene's hand jive, detract a bit.
John Graham-Hall gained prominence as Albert Herring and often portrays Aschenbach and Flute; he makes a nervous, tetchy Grimes. A creditable actor, he deploys his tenor musically, making words clear, but the nasal, tremulous "character" tone seems apter for Bob Boles (cleverly taken here by Peter Hoare). Susan Gritton won fame in Handel and Mozart. Saddled with a bright-orange wig, she elicits sympathy as Ellen Orford, singing with clean line and lovely tonal purity, though her voice is slightly light for Act II's hurdles. Christopher Purves, resonant and committed dramatically, enlivens Balstrode. Felicity Palmer's trenchant Auntie trumps Catherine Wyn-Rogers's merely adequate Mrs. Sedley. Daniel Okulitch — a born Ned Keene — makes a fine, unctuous Swallow; George von Bergen's randy apothecary registers strongly too. It's best to skip the first track, presenting credits to selected snippets of the score. Ticciati conducts admirably, obtaining wonderful sonority and rhythm in the pit. This extraordinary, luminous score now belongs to the world. Opus Arte's sonic clarity is welcome.
Those seeking a traditional sea-based setting can access the practiced, powerful Jon Vickers–Colin Davis team in Covent Garden's 1978 filming. The Met's 2008 issue, musically excellent under Donald Runnicles, showcases searing work by Anthony Dean Griffey, Patricia Racette, Palmer (here Sedley) and Jill Grove in John Doyle's production. This thought-provoking Scala performance proves worthy competition.
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