[Met Performance] CID:149560

Peter Grimes
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, January 21, 1949

Peter Grimes (7)
Benjamin Britten | Montagu Slater
Peter Grimes
Brian Sullivan

Ellen Orford
Polyna Stoska

Captain Balstrode
Lawrence Tibbett

Mrs. Sedley
Martha Lipton

Margaret Harshaw

Paula Lenchner

Maxine Stellman

Philip Kinsman

Jerome Hines

Bob Boles
Thomas Hayward

Rev. Horace Adams
John Garris

Ned Keene
Hugh Thompson

Anthony Marlowe

Thelma Altman

Lawrence Davidson

Matthew Vittucci

Peggy Smithers

Emil Cooper

Dino Yannopoulos

Set Designer
Joseph Novak

Costume Designer
Mary Percy Schenck

Peter Grimes received six performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Irving Kolodin in the New York Sun

A famous old play was recalled by last night's opera at the Metropolitan -- instead of "The Return of Peter Grimes," it would be the return of "Peter Grimes." Benjamin Britten's setting of the Slater version of George Crabbe's poem started its second season in the Metropolitan repertory with excellent results-a large audience, a generally able cast, with Lawrence Tibbett for the first time as Capt. Balstrode, and considerable response from the listeners.

I was impressed by the excellence of Brian Sullivan's Grimes and the Ellen Orford of Polyna Stoska, but even more by the feeling that this could be a shining accomplishment for the Metropolitan, given a more responsive conductor than Emil Cooper. What can be done by hard work and diligence, Cooper does; but he is constantly insensitive to the niceties of Britten's phrases, to the ebb and flow of musical syntax which transform mere correctness into compelling speech. Time and again, when the plan of writing calls for music to carry the action, Cooper is content with a metrical beat which leaves the listener becalmed. Whatever the faults of Britten's score, lack of momentum is not one of them.

Miss Stoska was quite magnificent as Ellen, singing with simplicity, charm and much vocal resource, if slightly muffled enunciation; and Sullivan was a compelling Grimes. Tibbett's Balstrode was an always potent figure in the drama, of more musical weight in the ensembles than those who have preceded him. I would not say his voice was lustrous, but it had dramatic thrust and musical line. After the performance he was feted by his associates of the opera, the board and the American Guild of Musical Artists, with gifts from all to commemorate his twenty-five years with the Metropolitan. Most of the smaller roles in the opera were taken by last season's personnel, though Margaret Harshaw, a new Auntie, rounded out the second act quartet.

Review 2:

Review of Robert Sabin in the February 1949 issue of Musical America

The ardor of the entire company in this season's first performance of Benjamin Britten's opera must have converted many musical doubting Thomases. Lawrence Tibbett made his first appearance in the role of Captain Balstrode, and his vigorous impersonation was a major factor in the evening's success. After the performance, Mr. Tibbett was honored, at a backstage party, in celebration of his having completed 25 years at the Metropolitan. He is now in his 26th season with the company.

Mr. Tibbett had obviously studied the character very thoroughly. His Balstrode was a sane, compassionate man, who had little patience for the mob hysteria of the townsfolk. His frantic attempt to check the mounting hatred of the people against Grimes, in the scene before the marching chorus, "Now is gossip put on trial," was emphasized in his powerful delivery of the repeated phrase, "You interfering gossips, this is not your business." No matter what he was singing, Mr. Tibbett's English diction was so clear that he could project a word or phrase through the most complicated ensemble. His voice was splendidly resonant and rich in quality. There was more than technical virtuosity in this performance; one sensed his belief in the music and the dramatic validity of the work. Mr. Tibbett has added another memorable characterization his impressive gallery at the Metropolitan.

Polyna Stoska's voice has never sounded more fresh and beautiful. She sang the role of Ellen Orford as suavely as she would an Italian part, with the result that Mr. Britten's unusual melodic figures and tessitura seemed completely natural. The leaps of sevenths and ninths in the embroidery aria, and the fearsome phrase, "Now my embroidery affords the clue," which descends ppp, three times, from a high B flat, G sharp and G natural, with only one bar between the repetitions, were flawlessly done. Another high point of the evening was the performance of the quartet of Ellen, Auntie, and the Two Nieces (in unison), "From the gutter why should we trouble at their ribaldries?" Miss Stoska, Margaret Harshaw, Paula Lenchner and Maxine Stellman did full justice to its exquisite blendings of vocal color. As an instance of the difficulties of the entrances, I might mention that the accompaniment consists of chords in the key of C minor, at the point where both Nieces begin singing in the key of B flat. Miss Lenchner achieved the final high D flat with a pianissimo tone, as marked by the composer.

Brian Sullivan's Peter Grimes is enough in itself to establish this young tenor as a highly gifted artist. His sincere, imaginative acting was matched by his intelligent vocal production, which never sacrificed quality to volume. In a few places, notably in the first scene, he had not yet identified himself with the role; one was still conscious of the mechanism of the characterization. But as a whole his performance was an impressive piece of work. Thomas Hayward as the Methodist, Jerome Hines as Swallow, John Garris as the Rev. Horace Adams, and Hugh Thompson, as Ned Keene, were musically more secure this year, and added the final touches to their vivid characterizations. Others in the cast were Martha Lipton as Mrs. Sedley; and Philip Kinsman, Anthony Marlowe, Thelma Altman, Lawrence Davidson and Matthew Vittucci. If Peggy Smithers, of the ballet, who plays the Apprentice, survives the run of Peter Grimes, the Metropolitan should award her a medal for heroism, for Mr. Sullivan made Grimes' brutal treatment of the boy terrifyingly realistic. At one point, he hurled a heavy pair of boots at her shins with such accuracy that she did not have to simulate a limp for the rest of the scene.

The chorus sang infinitely better this season. Both in dynamics and rhythm its performance was much more accurate; and the singers were more at home in the opera. Emil Cooper obtained an unflagging vitality from the orchestra, but again he conducted with sweeping, windmill gestures that failed to maintain rhythmical accuracy and the exact levels of sonority marked in the score by Mr. Britten. Nonetheless, this was a deeply moving performance of an opera which may well take a permanent place in the repertoire, for it contains all of the elements of great musical theatre: a well built, dramatically absorbing libretto; pregnant thematic material; and vivid color and emotional power in the handling of the voices and the orchestra.

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