An Excellent Peter Grimes on All Fronts

09/02/2018

Britten, Peter GrimesComunitat Valenciana Orchestra, Generalitat Valenciana Chorus / Christopher Franklin (conductor), Palau de Le Arts, Valencia, 7.2.2018. (JMI)

Peter Grimes © M. Lorenzo and M. Ponce

Cast:
Peter Grimes – Gregory Kunde
Ellen Orford – Leah Partridge
Balstrode – Robert Bork
Mrs. Sedley – Rosalind Plowright
Auntie – Dalia Schaechter
Bob Boles – Richard Cox
Swallow – Andrew Greenan
Reverend Adams – Ted Schmitz
Ned Keene – Charles Rice
Hobson – Lukas Jakobski
First Niece – Giorgia Rotolo
Second Niece – Marianna Mappa

Production:
Director – Willy Decker (original), François de Carpentries (revival)
Sets and Costumes – John Macfarlane
Lighting – Trui Malten

This is the first time that the Palau de Les Arts has staged this Benjamin Britten masterpiece. One could almost say that it has become a repertoire opera: it’s increasingly performed in opera houses and is always well received. And that is what has happened in Valencia: the performance was a total success, with a superb stage production, fine musical direction and a strong cast. The Palau de les Arts orchestra and chorus were also at their best.

I have always referred to this production by Willy Decker as an example of how a production should be put to the service of an opera and not the other way around. I’ve attended performances over the years in the Teatro Real, in Brussels and in Bilbao, and I was not in the least disappointed here, although 14 years have passed since I last saw it.

François de Carpentries was in charge of the revival, as he had been previously in Bilbao. It is a prime example of authentic stage direction, all put masterfully at the service of the work. The minimalist production emphasizes in an outstanding way the pressure of the ‘Borough’ on Peter Grimes, as well as the tension and violence of this self-destructive character. The performance of the chorus and the secondary characters is among the strongest work to be seen on stage.

The musical direction was entrusted to Christopher Franklin, whose reading was correct, with a good command of the work. He was at his best in the interpretation of the different orchestral preludes, but was less brilliant overall. I preferred others I’ve been lucky enough to hear, especially Antonio Pappano in Madrid, Kazushi Ono in Bilbao and Donald Runnicles in Berlin. The orchestra was excellent under his baton, and the chorus gave one of the best performances that I can remember from them.

The protagonist who gives title to the opera was played by Gregory Kunde, who I think was making his stage debut in this character, which he had only sung in concert, in Rome in October 2013. His performance was fully convincing, in terms both of singing and acting. Today, his voice is very well suited to the part.

Ellen Orford was played by American soprano Leah Partridge, who gave a fine performance. Her voice is bright at the top of the range, but somewhat short in the middle as well as in the low notes. She was a good interpreter of the part.

Baritone Robert Bork was a sonorous Captain Balstrode and a good actor, though I missed something more noble in his singing.

The secondary characters, very numerous in this opera, were well covered. Rosalind Plowright was a good Mrs. Sedley, the old gossip of the borough, and mezzo-soprano Dalia Schaechter did well as Auntie, as did Richard Cox as Bob Boles. Bass Andrew Greenan made a sonorous but somewhat coarse Swallow, while Charles Rice in the role of Ned Keene left a solid impression. Lukas Jakobski in the part of Hobson was a better actor than singer, and Ted Schmitz was an appropriate Adams. Finally, the two ‘nieces’, interpreted by Giorgia Rotolo and Marianna Mappa, also did well.

José M. Irurzun

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