He had already been scheduled to sing Grimes on the final date of the run, March 24, 2008; he now replaces Neil Shicoff in the six remaining performances between February 28 and March 20. This includes the March 15 Saturday matinee, which will be broadcast worldwide on radio, simulcast into movie theaters on three continents and subsequently released on DVD.
"It was an artistic decision," Met general manager Peter Gelb told the Associated Press about the replacement.
Shicoff recently pulled out of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini at this summer's Salzburg Festival. In a letter to festival director J‹rgen Flimm, the tenor stated explicitly that his disappointment at being passed over for the job of chief executive (Intendant) at the Vienna State Opera was his reason for canceling. (Last month the Austrian culture minister awarded the post, effective fall 2010, to French administrator Dominique Meyer; conductor Franz Welser-M‹st was selected to succeed Seiji Ozawa as music director.)
Known as a highly compelling actor as well as a robust and sensitive singer, Griffey has made much of his career in unusual roles, often in English. He first drew critical attention in 1997, singing Lennie in Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men at Glimmerglass Opera. He has repeated the role at New York City Opera (twice), San Diego Opera, the Bregenz Festival in Austria, Milwaukee's Florentine Opera and Houston Grand Opera, drawing glowing reviews each time (and moving at least one hard-nosed critic I know to sobs).
Griffey attracted similar praise as Mitch in the 1998 San Francisco Opera world premiere of Andr_ Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as in revivals at the San Diego and Washington National Operas and in concert with the Pittsburgh and London Symphony Orchestras. Other non-standard parts in which Griffey has drawn critical acclaim are Sam Polk in Floyd's Susannah (in which he made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut in 2003) and the title role in Robert Kurka's The Good Soldier Schweik (also in 2003, at Glimmerglass); he made his Los Angeles Opera debut this past February in Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
Yet Grimes is, along with Lennie, perhaps Griffey's signature role. He sang it at Tanglewood back in 1996 and has since used it for his debuts at the Glyndebourne Festival (2000), the Paris Opera (2004) and Santa Fe Opera (2005); he took the part for the first time at the Met in 1998, substituting for Chris Merritt on extremely short notice — and he received a very favorable review from The New York Times.
Tim Ashley of London's Guardian wrote of the Glyndebourne performance, "Grimes himself, astonishingly played by Anthony Dean Griffey, is a shambling animal, pitiable and moving, yet capable of terrifying brutality. Vocally, Griffey combines the lyricism of Peter Pears with the roaring heft of Jon Vickers to give what is perhaps the finest interpretation of the role to date."
The Met's new Peter Grimes will be directed by John Doyle, who staged the acclaimed recent Broadway revivals of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and Company (and, as it happens, directed Griffey in the Los Angeles Mahagonny). Patricia Racette will play Ellen Orford; Donald Runnicles will conduct.