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In Review > International

Peter Grimes

MILAN
Teatro alla Scala
5/19/12

In Review Scala Grimes hdl 812
Jones's staging of Peter Grimes at La Scala, with Graham-Hall (seated) and (from center to right) Peter Hoare (Bob Boles), Purves and Palmer
© Brescia e Amisano/Teatro alla Scala 2012

Twenty-nine-year-old maestro Robin Ticciati made a powerful impression in his La Scala debut, leading a new production of Peter Grimes in May — the first staging of Britten's opera to originate here since the three performances of the Italian premiere run, conducted by Tullio Serafin in 1947. The British conductor revealed not only a complete understanding of the composer's imaginative world but a masterly ability to invest the musical line with searing tension from the first bar to the last. He also exploited the warm timbres of the Scala orchestra and chorus to lend a full-bodied, tannin-rich flavor to his reading.

Richard Jones's production, with sets by Stewart Laing, was equally self-confident in execution but less consistently attuned to Slater's words and Britten's music: however efficiently worked-out Jones's staging was, it is the musical performance that clings to the memory. The opening prologue (the Coroner's Inquest) was decidedly effective: the present-day clothes and strongly lit setting seemed to free the characters from any nineteenth-century quaintness and brought them starkly to life in late-twentieth-century Britain. Yet the contemporary bleakness of Laing's Borough (reminiscent of the council estates of the outer London boroughs) increasingly contrasted with the villagers' strong sense of community and religious bearings. And, apart from a few stuffed seagulls poised on the tops of buildings, the presence of the sea and the centrality of the fishing industry to the community's survival never really came across visually. Jones seemed to be making points about the alienation of contemporary society — points that only occasionally coincided with the equally stark vision of Britten and Slater. In this context, the poetic fancy of the main character, which counterbalances his violence to the boys, seemed simply implausible and out-of-place, although tenor John Graham-Hall employed to the full his not inconsiderable skills as an actor to reconcile the music he was singing (rather beautifully most of the time) with the director's concept. 

Graham-Hall's crisp projection of words only highlighted the expressive warp in the production; from this point of view, the Ellen Orford of Susan Gritton — who favored lustrous tone at the expense of clear consonants — seemed to fit more smoothly into the setting, as did Christopher Purves's sturdy Balstrode, Felicity Palmer's classic Auntie and Catherine Wyn-Rogers's definitive portrayal of Mrs. Sedley. spacer

STEPHEN HASTINGS

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