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'Peter Grimes' at Covent Garden,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Amazingly it is nearly thirty years since the first night of Elijah Moshinsky's production of Peter Grimes at Covent Garden, so not surprisingly they have decided to replace it with a 'new' one. In fact the production, originally directed by Willy Decker, first appeared in Brussels at La Monnaie in 1994. It was re-staged in London by François de Carpentries, Assistant Director at La Monnaie.

The prologue opened with a stark black, steeply raked stage with just a chair for Swallow. The chorus were similarly all in black, with little to differentiate the individual characters that make up the drama. Peter Grimes was placed at a distance from the chorus and was carrying a coffin, presumably the apprentice's. Ben Heppner, who was playing Grimes, has recovered something of his original robustness of physique and voice, following his health problems. Matthew Best made a strong impression here as Swallow, but it took time for the other characters to become defined.

Ben Heppner as Peter Grimes at Covent Garden. Photo © 2004 Clive Barda
Ben Heppner as Peter Grimes at Covent Garden. Photo © 2004 Clive Barda

Act I opened, not at the harbour side but with the assembled populace sitting singing a hymn as if in church. Only when Grimes asks for help with his boat, did the backdrop part to reveal a black and white seascape (loosely based on Turner). This seemed to be a production in which the sea and the tang of the salt air were largely absent. Non-naturalistic productions of Grimes can work as Tim Albery's powerful production at the Coliseum testified, but Decker's abstract German expressionism I found rather unsympathetic and hard edged.

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Copyright © 10 July 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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