Monday, 12 January 2009

Peter Grimes: Peter Pears or Jon Vickers?

For anyone wishing to engage in a serious discussion of Peter Grimes, these are the two cornerstone interpreters you will need to familiarize yourself with:

Peter Pears (1910-1986), the original creator of Peter Grimes in 1945 and Benjamin Britten´s lifelong partner. Peter Pears´ Peter Grimes is a light-voiced, lyrical dreamer, here from the 1969 BBC film, released on DVD in the Mad Scene:

A radically different approach to Peter Grimes was taken by Canadian heldentenor Jon Vickers (born 1926) as a heavy-weight and troubled Peter Grimes with shattering intensity, where violence lurks just beneath the surface. Apparently Britten detested Jon Vickers interpretation, here from 1981, released on DVD, also in the Mad Scene:

As they say, in arts there doesn´t have to be a winner. Though in this case I wouldn´t hesitate to cast my vote in favour of Jon Vickers, despite the undisputed qualities of Peter Pears.

14 comments:

Tristan Minstrel said...

Definitely Vickers! No one brought such a harrowing madness to the role that he did.

Tyrel Boelsma said...

I'm going to have to disagree I think.

I haven't seen the Peter Pears' production, I did see the 1981 production though. And just judging by clips... Peter Pears is INCREDIBLY powerful! I really want to see this production in it's entirety now... He's so wonderful in his madness there! That's my two cents! :D

DB said...

I have a hard time imagining how Vickers could be bettered in this role but then the Vickers DVD is the only version I possess. But I welcome fine performances which shed a different light on aspects of the character, especially if they are endorsed by Britten himself.
Pears recorded a very fine Winterreise with Britten at the piano - an excellent alternative to the superb but ubiquitous Fischer-Dieskau. Suits Pears' voice to perfection.

Beckmesser said...

Who can live without Vickers' Grimes ? Who can live without Pears' Grimes ? I, for one, can't, and I refuse to choose ;-)

Linda said...

Philip Langridge.

lilloboss said...

Think the same as Linda, though it's a pretty whiffy work in the nostrils of those who
live in England without double-barrelled names or expensive accents.

Sexy Sadie said...

I adore Jon Vickers.
But, I own them both.

Sieglinde said...

I have to see Pears yet. That dvd is driving me mad - why isn't it up anywhere?

i have the one with Vickers, and I'm not really satisfied with him. The production is perfect - but he doesn't fit in. He's not a fisherman, he's a Tristan in disguise. I adore him in his Wagner roles (no-one could sing such a powerful Nothung-out-of-ash scene), but his Grimes seems just overplayed. He plays the grand opera hero with pathetic gestures and he's somehow not a victim and not an anti-hero. I can't feel sorry for him. On the Pears video fragment I almost cried. The wildness is just the surface. Peter longs for being loved and to love, but his nature and his pride forbids it.

John said...

I've only seen excerpts from the Pears film but I have listened to the Decca CD version of Grimes countless times. I saw Vickers sing the role at the ROH and I've seen recordings of that production subsequently. I would choose Pears of the two for conveying what, I think, is an intended ambiguity in the role that Vickers loses. That said, I'll take Tony Dean Griffey as the best I have seen in this, one of my favourite, roles.

Noriko-chan said...

Having seen 3 versions - I say Philip Langridge eats both for breakfast. He made me cry like a baby and Grimes isn't a very likeable guy.

Nick said...

Well, this is an interesting debate. I have both the Pears and Vickers performances on CD and DVD, and really, both are essential. As they are so radically different, it's a no brainer. Between them, they say everything that needs to be said about this, Britten's greatest tenor role. Pears is utterly heartbreaking, but he is never quite believable as a rough, violent fisherman. Vickers is monumental and terrifying. His performance in the production on the DVD is especially close to my heart. It was my introduction to Britten, and it blew me away. I literally didn't sleep all night after that first performance. I subsequently became a 'Britten nut'. I was also at the performance captured on the DVD. I disliked Langridge intensely - something about the quality of the voice. It needs to be both Pears and Vickers!

Anonymous said...

I am not so sure that Britten hated Jon Vickers' version. I read somewhere that Vickers started to sing the part to Britten and Britten stopped him quickly.

Of course Vickers voice is not what Britten had in mind when writing the role. But he also was an open-minded composer and interpret.

My idea about that is that Britten feared he could find Vickers better. Britten had written everything for Pears, he had conceived Grimes with him and for him. He loved Pears so much that he could not stand this idea of enjoying someone else more, at least in this one role.
It is just a personal assumption.

I think Britten died without listening to Vickers version.

knossian said...

The 1969 live recording from the ROH with Vickers and Harper in their prime, conducted by Davis and with a fine Balstrode from Geraint Evans. This, of course, was made in the same year as the BBC film of Grimes with Pears and Harper. As others have said, Pears and Vickers were so different that both readings are essential - those two were very lucky to have had Heather Harper as their Ellen Orford. (Note also Josephine Barstow as one of the nieces.)

Peter Seth said...

I saw Jon Vickers at the Met in 1968 -- from standing room before the interval, eighth row center after -- and, to this day, it is still one of the most powerful, wrenching, indelible performances I've ever seen (and, kids, I've seen a lot).

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