Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Britten - Peter Grimes|
Actors: Christopher Ventris, Emily Magee, Liliana Nikiteanu, Alfred Muff, Cornelia Kallisch
Director: David Pountney
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Ventris - A Great, Grim Grimes
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 11/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I raced home to watch my latest Amazon purchase, this "Peter Grimes" from Zurich and am still reeling from the experience.
There were elements of Robert Israel's stage design I wasn't immediately keen on, David Pountney has thought long and hard about how he wanted to present this great 20th Century opera, and the cast - from top-to-bottom - seem 100% convinced by his ideas resulting in an emotionally shattering experience. This is, of course, aided greatly by Welser-Most and the Zurich Opera House Orchestra's tremendous reading.
I've grown wary of stagings where nearly everyone is on the stage nearly all the time, and I'm afraid that element of this production put me on guard at curtain's rise. The stage is filled with chairs, used throughout the evening, many of them suspended in air with choristers representing the citizens of the Burrough, and all evening we watch them drink, weave, mend nets, work on model ships, etc. While some find this sort of thing adds an element of theatricality - everyone observing whats going on, the superiority and judgment of the villagers over the protagonist, how alone we can be despite the presence of many, etc., it bugs me just a little bit, particularly in intimate moments where their presence feels intrusive and unnecessary, and did so here as well. It felt a little "bang you over the head" obvious.
Now that the negative is out of the way, every other aspect of this production is quite magnificent, and I actually liked the urreal/abstract multi-leveled set with its ladders, poles, columns, wall of marine paraphenalia, etc, which gave the entire thing a sense of "nightmare of the soul." In Peter's mad scene, the violent waves of the ocean projected at the rear of the stage, is a nice touch as Peter's "boat" (a multiuse platform that rises and falls according to staging needs) rocks as he calls "steady." There are many such touches throughout.
Ventris may just have found a special niche that could make him the Grimes of choice these days. With a burly physical presence not unlike Vickers, his voice - at least here - has that English lyricism recalling Pears. This physical/vocal juxtaposition makes for a powerful, multi-faceted production, with Peter's longing for peace and tenderness at enormous odds with his brutality and quick temper. I always route for Peter, and rarely more so than with Mr. Ventris's performance. The denizens of the Burrough are almost an entirely unsavory lot and Peter's madness and intollerance seem to be a perfectly logical result of having lived among these horrible, horrible people. My God, anyone would snap.
That mob mentality, of course, extends to excluding Ellen, Balstrode and young John, from joining in their reindeer games.
Emily Magee brings a gentle intensity to Ellen making clear - unlike other productions - they share something strong here and that she loves this man. When she begins to doubt the plans she and Peter have laid out for themselves, it is a moment that absolutely shatters - her, Peter, and the audience.
The quartet with Ellen, Auntie and the Nieces is particularly touching here, and Mrs. Sedley's "Murder" song is delivered with a comic malice that is genuinely creepy.
One of the most devastating and powerful sequences in all of opera is the great chorus "Him who despises us we'll destroy" all the way through the end of the opera. There is no denying the thrill of the villagers mobbing and threatening the unseen Grimes, but when that "jolly" demented wordless chorus takes over, I lose it every time, my entire body shuddering and tense until the final blackout. And so it was here. Welser-Most's leading of the Zurich forces is thrilling, visceral stuff, and I enjoyed the occasional overhead shots of the orchestra pouring everything and wailing away on Britten's greatest score.
The supporting cast, Alfred Muff a stalwart Balstrode, Cornelia Kallisch a hateful, brilliant Mrs. Sedley, and Liliana Nikiteanu playing Auntie up as a red hot hottie, as well as the rest of the cast in roles small and large, all are at fever pitch level and contribute enormously to the success of this wrenching production.
The audience begins cheering as soon as the lights go out, and cheers cast, maestro and orchestra (which really is a "cast" member in this opera), but I just motionless on the couch for a few minutes, wrecked.
Probably the Peter Grimes of our time
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 11/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The excellence of this 2005 production, which I viewed twice, immediately followed by the 1981 production starring Jon Vickers by way of comparison, compels me to add a review (read the other, excellent review). The passive presence of chairs, hung from the set's walls and columns and looming over the stage, obviously meant as a metaphor for the ever present townsfolk, doesn't disturb me. Their inhabitants are all actively engaged in common activities (needlepoint, letter writing, mending nets etc.). They add real, historical ambiance, effectively placing events into their proper time period, 1830. Whether there is symbolic importance, I am not prepared to say. It is an interesting conceit. The rest of the production, though containing modern elements of symbolic action: such as Grimes hauling his ship's spar, shaped like a cross, into the mist before he sails back out to sea to sink his boat, is traditional enough that it never wanders too far from the libretto. The cast is uniformly superb, with Christopher Ventris adding to the Grimes legacy, rather than replacing Pears and Vickers. Watching the Vickers performance immediately afterward, enabled me to compare the two performances. Vickers IS Peter Grimes! He inhabits the character to a chilling degree. Ventris PERFORMS Peter Grimes, albeit superbly. That is the major difference. Vickers and Callas were the greatest acting singers of their era. If you are a lover of this opera, you should own the Vickers performance, in any case.
The case for this new DVD is very strong. The performances, both acting and singing, are superb in all respects. Emily Magee is a splendid Ellen. Liliana Nikiteanu is a wonderful, seductive Auntie. The rest of the cast are equally good. The production is intelligent and evocative (though somewhat stylized), you feel as if you are in The Borough. The music is helped enormously by a splendid performance from Franz Welser-Most conducting the Orchester der Oper Zurich and the stunningly well recorded sound. Whether in PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.0 or (especially) DTS 5.0, the instruments (such as the harps and winds) sound as if they are in your livingroom. Crystalline, clear and full, it is some of the best recorded sound I've heard on a DVD. If sound, clarity of visual image and performance are important to you, and you only want one Peter Grimes, then this is the obvious choice. Otherwise, enjoy the best of both worlds: get this new one and the 1981 Vickers, if at all possible. The production lasts 150 minutes and is shot in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen.
This is probably the Peter Grimes for our time. It is splendidly performed and presented. Most strongly recommended.
A landlocked Grimes with touches of German expressionism
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/08/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I had nowhere near the positive reaction to this quasi-expresionistic production, whose iconoclastic "idea" is to remove the drama away from an English fishing village and to landlock it away form the sea. Grimes wears a black slicker and thick fiherman's sweater, but everyone else is costumed out of an Agatha Christie novel between the wars. The inclusion of strobe-light storms and green smoke swirling around Grimes when he recalls tortemted memories of his dead apprentice hearks back to run-of-the-mill German cinematic devices from between the wars, also.
Having stripped the opera of time, place, weather, and ocean (rendering the four sea interludes rather pointless), what is offered in its place? Well, the Widow Orford seems sexually lonely and longs for Grimes's touch in the trial scene. The community, which plays a central role in Britten's conception of an outcast driven to the brink of madness by gossip and social exclusion, is rendered here with suspended chairs danging above the aciton in which various social types (cobbler, woman at her knitting, musician polishing his violin) busy themselves without noticing any aspect of the unfolding drama. These passive observers, who don't sing, symbolize the people who ignore or disapprove of Grimes, but doesn't the chorus do that already?
Yet for me musical values trump staging, and here we meet a glaring fault: the miking so favors the orchestra that most of the solo singing is too distant for impact and too overshadowed for us to make out the words clearly. I know the text of Peter Grimes well but could barely understand one word in five.
As for the orchestral part, Welser-Most often seems uninvoled and misses the idiom of the opera -- his storms and interludes are far form anguished and earthshattering. HIs two leads, Ventris and Magee, are a respectable Grimes and Ellen Orford, but both are fairly stolid actors, and nether dares to sing with the tragic intensity that would set them off against the complacent townfolk.
In short, this DVD may be worth a listen or two (at most), and some may welcome a novel setting besides the usual East Anglian fishing village, but the overall effect is tepid. My opinion is colored,too, by the Royal Opera production under Colin Davis, where Jon Vickers delivers one of the greatest performances on video, a Grimes of elemental power and searing tragic impact."
Touching, Troubling, Timeless...
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 07/09/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"...or if I may coin a word, "omni-temporal," with an abstract modern stage setting depicting the timeless toil of village life symbolically on stationary vertical perches but with painstakingly realistic costuming localised in time and place in a Suffolk fishing port in 1945. There's a Hogarthian quality to this opera; the diction of the rhymed couplet libretto is pure 18th Century, and the tavern scenes come straight from The Beggar's Opera by way of Weill and Brecht. But there's also a lot of Thomas Hardy in the play -- the anger at conventional pieties, the stunted petty provincialism, the psychological pessimism. This is a "play," by the way, not merely an excuse for operatic singing, and as a "play" it's outstanding, one of the most dramatically satisfactory plays of operatic history. The story was taken from a poem by the 18th Century writer George Crabbe, much reshaped in complexity by Britten and his librettist Montagu Slater.
Britten has blended musical accents from the 18th and 20th Centuries as freely and plausibly as the elements of the libretto. The result is a complex ever-shifting texture of bawdy and somber, jingly and subtle, vaudevillian and Wagnerian. This is an orchestral opera, with superb interludes suggesting changes of scene and passages of time. The instrumental writing is some of Britten's most vivid, and the cinematographers have made the splendid decision to focus their cameras on the orchestra pit and conductor during such moments. Tight close-ups, full-stage display, full orchestra and stage - all balance and blend to create a kind of operatic universality. Altogether, this production is successful on three levels: as an opera, as a play, and as a film.
Oh yeah, and there's the singing. It's perfect.
I had a bit of trouble finding the right audiophile settings for this DVD. The defaults disappointed me; the singers sounded distant and shrouded in relation to the orchestra, to such a degree that I almost gave up on the performance. At Mike Birman's insistence, however, I mixed and matched the settings on my DVD player and my amp, finally discovering that Dolby combined with five-channel gave me the vocal presence I wanted in balance with the orchestra. Don't ask me why; I'm not a proper geek, I do it all by ear. I suggest you do the same, as soon as you buy or rent this masterpiece of musical theater."