<< -- 3 -- Robert Hugill MISUNDERSTOOD?
The staging, with its heightened naturalism, lacked a sense of the bleakness of Suffolk and the over emphasis on the strangeness of the community reduces Grimes's alienation.
Act II opened with a hauntingly beautiful scene between Watson's Ellen Orford and the expressive Gabriel Sassi Mayoral Galindo as the apprentice; in this production the director calls for the apprentice to express far more than usual and Galindo was superb. But this scene was weakened by having the chorus on-stage at the back, making them far more present than is sometimes the case. The scene after church was very hard edged, this was rapidly becoming a production in which one could have sympathy with no-one.
This was emphasised in the scene in Grimes's hut, where the poetry of Heppner's performance was countered by his angry physical mistreatment of the boy. Here is a Grimes who is more than just misunderstood. It is almost as if Decker wants us to feel that Grimes's violence is just a part of the general malaise of the community, with no heroes or villains at all.
In the Act III dance scene the community again displays a bawdiness and licentiousness that I found overdone. Against this, Janice Watson's 'Embrodiery' aria was stunning, one of the few moments of repose in an over busy production. Heppner was touching in Grimes's visionary scene, but by now it was far too late for us to have too much sympathy thanks to Decker's hard-edged view of the work.
The final tableau of the opera as the Borough goes about its morning business at the harbourside whilst Grimes's boat sinks out on the horizon, is replaced by the hymn singing of the opening of Act I. Gradually all the citizens cover their faces with their hymn sheets and finally Bulstrode and Ellen Orford follow suit and conform.
Ben Heppner as Peter Grimes and Janice Watson as Ellen Orford. Photo © 2004 Clive Barda
This was a powerfully sung and played production under Antonio Pappano's masterly direction. There were times that I felt that, with the orchestra playing so well for Pappano, the sea interludes became far more expressive than the stage pictures that they punctuated. I look forward to hearing Pappano in Britten again, but in a more sympathetic production. And I would welcome hearing Heppner explore Peter Grimes further, preferably with a producer more in tune with Britten's intentions.