Benjamin Britten's groundbreaking 1945 opera Peter Grimes returns to New York's Metropolitan Opera for five performances beginning on Dec. 29.
This production, first seen during the 1966-67 season, when the Met had just moved into its new home at Lincoln Center, was directed by the great theatre impresario Tyrone Guthrie (and has been dusted off and staged for its current performances by Lesley Koenig).
The opening night cast includes tenor Philip Langridge in the title role, soprano Patricia Racette (much praised for the Santa Fe Opera production of Emmeline, seen earlier this year on PBS and due to arrive at New York City Opera in the spring) as Ellen Orford, and baritone Alan Opie as Balstrode. The conductor is David Atherton.
Peter Grimes, which deals with the tragic fate of a man who is unjustly condemned by his neighbors for the death of a fishing apprentice, has long been considered one of the masterpieces -- many would say the masterpiece -- of the 20th-century opera repertoire.
The opera is drawn from an 1810 poem by George Crabbe about fishermen on the English seacoast, and has been hailed by musicologists as the first British opera to deal with the darker psychological aspects of man. One writer, Dorothy Samachson, had this to say about the opera: "In his first major work for the lyric theatre, Britten demonstrated a genius for delineating character and plot musically, for presenting social and psychological conflicts with originality and dramatic assurance, and for the shattering power and beauty of the score."
Among the score's highlights are six orchestral interludes, Grimes's aria "What harbour shelters peace?" and his "Now the Great Bear and the Pleaides," Ellen Orford's "Glitter of waves" and "Embroidery in childhood," and the chillingly powerful choral sequences when the townspeople -- who act as the true "villain" of the opera -- spew out their condemnation of Grimes.
The opera had its world premiere at Sadler's Wells in London in 1945. The U.S. premiere was held the following summer at Tanglewood, with Leonard Bernstein conducting a student cast. The most affecting and renowned Peter Grimes of our time is the Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, who last performed the role at the Met in 1983. More recently, Anthony Rolfe Johnson took on the role.
Philip Langridge will portray Peter Grimes on Dec. 29 and Jan. 2, 7 and 10; Chris Merritt will perform the role for a single performance on Jan. 5.
The final performance of Peter Grimes on Jan. 10 is a matinee that begins at 1:30 ET and will be broadcast live around the world (check your local radio listings).
For tickets, call (212) 362-6000.
-- By Rebecca Paller