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Britten - Peter Grimes (The Metropolitan Opera HD Live Series)
Britten - Peter Grimes
The Metropolitan Opera HD Live Series
Actors: Anthony Dean Griffey, Patricia Racette, Anthony Michaels-Moore, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Director: Donald Runnicles (Conductor)
Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2008     2hr 48min

The Metropolitan Opera's acclaimed Live in High-Definition series, which projects live performances into theaters across the globe, has met with unprecedented critical and commercial success and has made opera convenient a...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Anthony Dean Griffey, Patricia Racette, Anthony Michaels-Moore, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Director: Donald Runnicles (Conductor)
Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Classical
Studio: EMI Classics
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 09/16/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 2hr 48min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

A Perfect "Grimes" From the Met
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 12/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The first viewing of this, one of my favorite operas, worked me up as though I were experiencing it for the first time. I've seen Vickers, I've heard Pears, I've seen a number of video performance by others (including Chris Ventris who was superb) but Griffey offers the finest Grimes in my experience. The sweetness and clarity of tone he brings to the role adds a level that enhanced the character to a degree almost unimaginable. The detail of the acting of each role simply mind boggling and completely believable. Often one gets tremendous "acting" performances which can make me forgive some vocal shortcomings, but here each role was sung with such precision and beauty and music and text wedded sublimely.

I also enjoyed Dessay's introduction, especially just as the performance was ready to
begin as she warns us to settle in for "the sad, horrible story of Peter Grimes."

It's a different beast watching it on screen than in the house, (of course), and I wonder if this is one of those productions better served by seeing it on screen than on stage. As a "movie" the set was simply tremendous and a perfect vehicle to display all the many characters that inhabit the Borough. The screen captures an intimacy not quite possible if one was forced to stare at the set the entire time, our eyes relieved and training on specific details rather than having to pick them out from the "whole." Generally, I'm less
inclined to like this than live, but this one really, really worked.

Patricia Racette is simply stunning as Ellen. No singer today sings in English like this girl. Every word, even on some of those (few) high notes was understandable and filled with meaning. I loved what she talked about during her interview of being able to sing in her native tongue and be able to put across the subtexts which isn't always possible - or
at least as "natural" as when singing in a foreign language. Her face displayed every emotion as well as her voice, her body language strong and sure. This was not wilting violet (not that I'm accusing any of the many wonderful Ellen's I've seen were) but she brought a force of strength from the get go. Her standing up to the community at the beginning was powerful, powerful music theatre - just riveting. My friends who went with me have never seen her before and my buddy's wife commented "I couldn't take my eyes off of her . . . and that voice, oh my God!"

I kept hearing that Teddy Tahu Rhodes stole every scene he was in, and I was thrilled to see pretty much the case today. His Ned was terrific. I've liked this guy for a little while now and it's wicked fun seeing him make such a strong debut at the Met!

Jill Groves as Auntie was right up there as well. What a big, sexy gal she is and her mannerisms, voice, costume, everything was the perfect Auntie.

Mr. Michaels Moore has been bumpy for me throughout the number of times I've seen and heard him, but I always like him. Today was one of the best performances I've heard from this guy - tremendous.

I'm becoming, more and more, a huge fan of Mr. Del Carlo and it's fun to see him in a number of these Met outings. Those mutton chops today almost stole the show!

Runnicles. Wow. What an amazing way he has with this score, living and breathing it and getting from that amazing orchestra a superb, thrilling reading. Every nuance and detail was breathtaking - from the "hurly burly" wild moments to the most hushed and introspective sounding.

There are too many moments to single out when something comes through as perfectly as did this.

The chorus. Holy Smoke! They were astonishing in every single detail. This is one of those "chorus" operas and the Met should be justifiably proud of the work Mr. Palumbo has done.

I tried not to cry, and held up well during the big "Grimes" chorus, but Griffey's mad scene opened up the floodgates. To see him tears in his eyes mixing with his sweat rolling down his face, I pulled away for a millisecond and back to reality thinking "this guy really thinks he's Peter Grimes." Well, so did I!

The intermission feature includes a brief trip to Aldeborough who were receiving their first Met cinemeacast - when this HD presentation first aired. We go along the nearby beaches as well as the Britten/Pears house. It was powerfully moving to catch sight of their unadorned graves with their simple headstones in the graveyard.

This DVD jumps to the head of the list! Highly recommended.
Runnicles leads an impressive reading of Grimes
G. Raucher | San Francisco | 10/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Met's HD production of "Peter Grimes" packs a lot of power and brings the brooding musicality of Benjamin Britten's 1945 operatic masterwork to life. The cast is uniformly fine vocally and dramatically, though people who remember Jon Vickers in his full-voiced portrayal of the titular anti-hero may find Anthony Dean Griffey's tenor light and reedy by comparison. Nonetheless, he is compelling in his portrayal of Grime's anguished internal pre-occupations, and the rest of the cast brings theatrical and vocal specificity to their roles as inhabitants of The Borough. Patricia Racette gives a heart-wrenching performance as Ellen Orford, the widowed school mistress who tries to befriend the embattled Peter. John Doyle's stage direction is strong in developing the characters, and in maximizing the dramatic impact of the choruses, but is often rendered static by the constraints of the uniwall black on black set. The real heroes, though, are conductor Donald Runnicles and the incomparable Met orchestra, who capture Britten's miraculous sonic evocation of the sea and its parallel storms in the minds of those who, like the fisherman Grimes, try to eke out a precarious livelihood from it."
TODD KAY | 06/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The extras here (Natalie Dessay's amusingly arch introductions; backstage interviews with singers, the maestro, and other personnel) are woven into the performance in chronological order, so that if the viewer watches the DVD straight through, he or she experiences exactly what was seen in the March 2008 HD theater broadcast. I am not sure I would like for this to become standard practice on the new Met DVDs, but then, we all presumably are equipped with a "track forward" button. That this is the closest I can come to a quibble is a statement in itself. This is in all ways a towering achievement: a masterly presentation of what must be among the two or three greatest operas composed for our ungrateful English language.

The production by John Doyle, with set designs by Scott Pask, is dark and spare in its look: everything takes place in front of a large, looming wall behind which scaffolding has been erected. Doors placed at various heights open unpredictably by mechanical means to reveal this or that member of the Borough eavesdropping, commenting, judging. To my mind, it works exceptionally well both as symbolism and as establishment of milieu: we are thrust, right along with Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford, into a place where there are no secrets and no privacy, and ultimately there will be neither mercy nor escape. The Borough of Benjamin Britten and librettist Montagu Slater, after George Crabbe's poem of the same name, is just as oppressive, forbidding, and threatening a world, in its fashion, as the Spain of Verdi's DON CARLOS and the Russia of Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV. But lives are not destroyed here by means of pyre or gulag; the deed is accomplished by gossip, half-truth, and the slow suffocation of ambiguity. In this production as elsewhere, Peter Grimes is no innocent, misunderstood victim. We see in his worst moments with Ellen Orford and with his doomed (second) apprentice that he is indeed capable of coarseness, even brutality, and that he is disturbed and tightly coiled. But in the Borough, an outcast's imagined misdeeds are assumed, and his real ones magnified beyond reason. Grimes's tormenters do not inflict his psychic wounds, but they find those wounds and tear at them. Their cruelty hastens him along on his path to isolation and madness, and his only sympathizers, Ellen and Balstrode, ultimately are defeated -- the only option left them is to help Grimes to an end that is as merciful and dignified as possible under the circumstances. The accusers, for all their posturing about standards of community decency and children's welfare, desperately need a Grimes to be their goat, their bogeyman. It is all that prevents them from turning their gaze inward, or on one another. The clergyman and lawyer with their nocturnal drunken sprees and lecherous attacks on young women, the shrill old widow with her addiction to black-market narcotics, would be no objective observer's models of rectitude. Their benighted hypocrisy would seem wicked satire if it we did not encounter its like all around us, every day, whether in our own communities or in what we see and read in the news.

Not a single member of the ensemble fails to adequately serve Britten musically, and here we get an object lesson in how much of a positive difference it can make when everyone looks his or her part as well (this scarcely matters on an audio recording). It is a credit to the Met's casting as well as to Ann Hould-Ward's costume designs. Anthony Michaels-Moore could well *be* a retired sea captain. Felicity Palmer so thoroughly embodies viperous old Mrs. Sedley that it's slightly startling when she abandons that pinched, hardened mien at her final bows; she seems to drop about 20 years. Jill Grove, as the tart-tongued barmaid Auntie, is as astute in the details as she is in the outline; the kernel of her whole performance is in the perfection of that throaty laugh during the Prologue's inquest scene. Auntie's two dubious "nieces" (Leah Partridge and Erin Morley) have the youthful beauty to make them entirely plausible as what they are (the drawing cards for Auntie's pub), but they are not merely decorative -- they are real, capable singers. In the lead roles, Patricia Racette and Anthony Dean Griffey give performances that are, in different ways, as moving as any one is likely to find on an opera DVD. Racette finds and communicates the schoolteacher Ellen Orford's decency and feminine strength as well as the trickier aspects of the part, the plaintive undercurrents of loneliness and need. Griffey never loses the through-line of our sympathy in his portrayal of this ambiguous, troublesome protagonist, who is fascinating not in spite of his limitations but because of them. Benjamin Britten famously disliked the grand-scaled Peter Grimes of the great Wagnerian tenor Jon Vickers. We need not share his opinion (I certainly do not), but I wonder what he would have made of Griffey, a big, convincingly intimidating man whose voice is more slender and his interpretation more lyrical than Vickers's -- closer to that of Britten's lifetime companion and the originator of the role, Peter Pears. However, Griffey is both more ingratiating in sound and more reliable in his musicianship than Pears ever was. The entire cast's diction has phenomenal clarity.

The rave would not be complete without acknowledgement of the Met Orchestra and Chorus under the skilled and perceptive guidance of Donald Runnicles. Special mention should be afforded the chorus for its achievements in dynamics. When the mob mentality reaches its (figurative and literal) crescendo on Act III's "Peter Grimes! Peter Grimes!" it is absolutely hair-raising. But the choristers are no less effective in quieter moments, such as that haunting final scene, as the Borough begins its new day, having all but forgotten about Peter Grimes. Viewers of this production are unlikely to do the same."
An alternate view of this production
birdwalker | Friday Harbor, WA United States | 04/21/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)

"An alternate view of the Met Grimes

First of all, why did the Met even bother with a set? They've given us what is essentially a concert staging with costumes and some movement. Britten's musical information is totally ignored; e.g., when Balstrode helps Grimes haul in his boat, Britten, who loved Verdi and knew Schubert's songs very well, illustrates in the orchestra and vocal music the straining and pulling at the winch. In the Met production, however, the two men merely "stand and deliver" front stage. During the second intermission, the director and set designer are both asked how they got their inspiration for this production. They agreed that it was the story they were considering and they talked a bit about their work in relation to the libretto. Neither mentioned the music. (During the same interval, the conductor, in his interview, emphasized Britten's attention to the scenic and psychological in the music. Was he giving us his opinion of the staging?) This production doesn't begin to work well with the music until the middle of Act III, scene 1. Of interest, it is suggested during Peter's "mad scene" that he imagines the voices of Ellen and Balstrode (not as interesting psychologically, however, as having Ellen and Balstrode actually with Peter at that point).

As to Griffey's performance, he's certainly excellent vocally, but his conception of Grimes is inconsistant: is he merely childish, a schizophrenic, borderline autistic? Much of the time his acting is obviously that: acting. He doesn't "get his act together" literally until his final scene. Perhaps he will grow into this role...

Racette is excellent; you may want to buy this DVD for her performance, but there are other superb Ellens on much better CDs (Pears/Britten and Rolfe Johnson/Haitinck, e.g.) and DVD (Langridge/Atherton). As to the comment on diction by another amazon reviewer, just listen to Heather Harper in the role of Ellen if you want to hear understandable diction. Plus, everyone's diction on the Langridge DVD is superb. I didn't understand a single word Auntie's nieces sang (this production), but they come across very clearly on my other recordings.

Something is wrong with the engineering for the Met DVD: balance in volume between orchestra and singers often favors the singers, to the detriment of Britten's orchestral information. Perhaps the problem is with Runnicles: I noticed some very strange phrasing due to the orchestra slowing or speeding up at times. Perhaps the placement of chorus and leads has something to do with my disappointment in sound and acting. As mentioned above, the director and set designer were more concerned with their Concept than with Britten's masterful telling of the story in his music.

Peter Grimes is one of my top ten operas. I've seen it live in Chicago twice, once with Jon Vickers, once with Ben Heppner. I saw the Willy Decker production in Brussels twice, with two different Peters. I have the opera on CD with Peter Pears, Britten himself conducting; with Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Haitinck conducting; and with Philip Langridge, Tate conducting. I have the opera on DVD with Pears, and with Langridge, Atherton conducting. I would place any of my five recorded Grimes over this production (which I purchased because I wanted to see Racette in action and because she and Griffey got such rave reviews). I'm also quite familiar with the Vickers DVD, an especially beautiful production, disappointing only because of Vickers' obtrusive ego. It is difficult for me to choose my favorite -- they are all so wonderful, but for a DVD performance it's Philip Langridge in Tim Albery's production for the Royal Opera, by far.

I doubt I'll ever watch this DVD again; it simply can't compare to Pears/Britten on CD or Langridge on DVD.