[Met Performance] CID:274170

Peter Grimes
Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, October 13, 1983

Peter Grimes (37)
Benjamin Britten | Montagu Slater
Peter Grimes
Jon Vickers

Ellen Orford
Elisabeth Söderström

Captain Balstrode
Thomas Stewart

Mrs. Sedley
Jean Kraft

Lili Chookasian

Louise Wohlafka

Betsy Norden

Ezio Flagello

Jerome Hines

Bob Boles
Charles Anthony

Rev. Horace Adams
Michael Best

Ned Keene
Dale Duesing

Kent Cottam

Barbara Bystrom

Paul De Paola

Kirk Peterson

John Pritchard

Tyrone Guthrie

Tanya Moiseiwitsch

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Stage Director
Bodo Igesz

Peter Grimes received sixteen performances this season.

Review 1:

Review from the Saturday

The fifth entry in the Metropolitan Opera's repertory added a new dimension to the preceding quartet in this centennial season. It was Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes," in a performance that could be measured against all heard in this city since its premiere this side of the Atlantic at the Tanglewood Festival on Aug. 7, 1946.

That venture had much going for it, with the composer present and Leonard Bernstein conducting the excellent student orchestra of the Berkshire School. But it also had some conditions to contend against, such as an experimental complement of principals, of whom the best was the American basso James Pease as Capt. Balstrode.

The Met sponsored its first production on Feb. 12, 1948, with an excellent Ellen Orford by Regina Resnick and a more than promising Swallow by a new singer of the season, Jerome Hines. In 1967 came a much better one, which had the benefit of outstanding direction by Tyrone Guthrie and a splendid account of the title role by Jon Vickers.

But the most recent production of "Peter Grimes" was the greatest ever, for factors that contribute to the concept of retrospect on which the current centennial project is based.

Central to it all, and indispensable to the possibility that it would start from the best of the past, and go on from there, was the presence of Vickers as Grimes. Vickers, in fact, can be said to have been established as the historical Grimes himself.

Berlioz' "Les Troyens," with which Vickers was identified when it had its first Met showing in 1973, is now somewhat beyond his solid range, as are the credits he has earned for a distinguished Siegmund in Wagner's "Die Walkure" or Tristan in his "Tristan and Isolde," or a passionate Canio in Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci." All these stand to his considerable credit across a career that began at the Met in 1960, as does his account of Florestan in Beethoven's "Fidelio," which will be heard again on Dec. 14. But none of them includes the special distinction that puts his Grimes above all others. The text is in English, which Vickers delivers with a splendor of sound and a finesse of enunciation few singers of recent years have matched.

Supporting the artistry he now commands, at 57, is an equality of excellence among the other participants. Tops among them, for improbability, is Hines, the first of the Metropolitan Swallows, as mentioned above. Now 62, he no longer requires the elaborate job of makeup to age him, as he did in 1948. But to his remarkable credit and despite the ups and downs of ventures along the way, Hines commands the nuances and niceties to support the elderly lawyer's critical part in Britten's concept. Hines also preserves a suitable physique for a man who tries to be more than ordinarily helpful to the psychically disturbed Grimes.

Two such credible performers in a difficult pair of roles are more than most recent composers enjoy. But the presence of two others of comparable quality are what makes this current "Grimes" historic. One was the excellent soprano from Sweden, Elisabeth Soderstrom, who made an admired Met debut in 1959 as Susanna in Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro" but has recently spent much time performing concert repertory elsewhere. In the taxing role of Ellen Orford, the widowed schoolmarm who tries somehow to rescue Grimes from his fated future, other Met casts have had a few who were good-looking and another one or two who were well-known after the first, very good Resnick. Soderstrom adds to excellent sound and a fine appearance a distinction that most others have lacked: the capacity to evoke an Ellen whom Grimes professes to love, for all his incapacities to overcome obstacles between them.

The final challenge to complete a central quartet on the level of a Vickers, a Hines, a Soderstrom, involves the best written, probably, of all the roles in "Peter Grimes," the part of Capt. Balstrode. Among the baritones who have reacted, at the Met, to the role's possibilities for humane characterization and vocal performance are the excellent -John Brownlee, Mack Harrell, Lawrence Tibbett, Geraint Evans and the late Donald Gramm. They have, more often than not, emerged as the nearest equivalents to Britten's necessities, even before Vickers established his qualifications for Grimes. This time the divine choice has gone to the Texas-horn Thomas Stewart, who had the advantage of studies at Juilliard with one of the fine Balstrodes noted above, Mack Harrell. Stewart went on to prominence by way of the New York City Opera to Covent Garden and the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, as well as a prime theater n Berlin. He came to the Met in 1966 with impressive credentials as an actor-singer. His role then was Ford in Verdi's "Falstaff" and lago in his "Otello," followed by such suitable parts as Escamillo in "Carmen" and Mozart's Don. That he was ratted upon to venture the heavier Wagner roles, such as Wotan, which he would probably have preferred to avoid, is in the nature of the opera life as it is presently pursued (ask Jerome. Hines). But it is to the prestige of Stewart (as of Hines) that he has mastered the challenges of his craft, in his 60s, to make the most of what he undertakes to do. As an instance, in this first venture with Balstrode at the Met, Stewart made much visibly- at his entrance as a gray-bearded, pipe-smoking, retired sea skipper - of his belief that there is more to Grimes than his downgrading neighbors understand. Much of this was conveyed by demeanor and attitude. When Stewart also had music to sing, he did it beautifully, aided in considerable part by the excellent conducting of Sir John Pritchard. Despite his effort, and the crafty stage direction of Bodo lgesz, much about this cherishable complement of principals could have been forfeited by ineptitudes here or there. But - and this kind of "but" is complimentary, not conditional - a fine level of ability was fulfilled by Lili Chookasian as Auntie, Jean Kraft as Mrs. Sedly, Charles Anthony as Bob Bales, Dale Duesing as Ned Keene, Ezio Flagello as Hobson, and the charming Louise Wohlafka and Betsy Norden as two Nieces. Don't miss them all.

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