Sunday 9 March 2008

New Peter Grimes on DVD: Superb Pountney production from Zurich

Peter Grimes. Zurich Opera 2005. Production: David Pountney. Cast: Christopher Ventris (Peter Grimes), Emily Magee (Ellen Orford), Alfred Muff (Balstrode). Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst. Further information here.

Director David Pountney really does get to the core of Peter Grimes as I see it: Not a drama of the changing of the sea or a specific English fisherman-village portrait, it is rather a universal story of someone being pushed out of a community, for whatever reason we don´t know, and which eventually breaks him. In the unchanging stylish sets, the people of the village are suspended on chairs in the air, literally looking down on, as a metaphor of condemning Peter Grimes. It is a cold world, with everyone looking after himself, even Balstrode plays with the prostitute-girls in Act 3 like the other hypocrites of the village.

Both Christopher Ventris and Emily Magee are exceptionally well-cast as Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford. Ventris brings both sympathy and ambiguity to the character, who is, also from Britten´s hand, ambiguous in his harsh working methods vs. his dreams of simple domestic happiness with Ellen.

And Pountney brings almost biblical pathos to the final scene - Orford and Balstrode sit on each side of the stage with the two dead boys in their lap, while Grimes delivers his monologue leaning toward a white pole (cross).

Well conducted, though not overly dense, by Franz-Welser Möst this DVD is highly recommended. Of modern versions, the only alternative is the 2008 production from the Metropolitan Opera, equally highly recommended.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Christopher Ventris: 4
Emily Magee: 4-5
Alfred Muff: 4

David Pountney´s staging: 4-5

Franz Welser-Möst: 4

Overall impression: 4-5

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