Friday, 22 May 2009


21/05/09, ENO


I made a note immediately afterwards as to why it was so good, which I have lost.

But I have found some additional jottings.

It's not clear what drives Grimes: what's his motivation? He's a tragic outcast, man versus the crowd but also man versus the sea (both represented by the chorus).

An article in the programme suggests we shouldn't read it as a parable of the gay conchie returning to England post-war, but that's mad.

Musically it's haunting: the sea interludes, of course (which sound anaemic in the concert hall but tremendously evocative here) but also the choruses, especially the last (which reprises something from Act 1???) and some of the solos and duets, especially the Grimes/Ellen duet in Act 1, Grimes's solo at the close of Act 1, ditto Act 3.

Towards the end Britten gives up. There's no music at all when Balstrode tells Grimes to go to sea and sink the boat. The lights are even out in the pit. Then the music returns with the chorus.

Great set. Grimes's hut at a crazy slope, the trestle tables in the market.

Clever was the way the chorus hem Grimes in at the end of the dance scene, shouting his name with dramatic pauses: one of several moments when the hairs stood up on the neck.

Stuart Skelton as Grimes can certainly act; Amanda Roocroft as Ellen and Gerald Finley as Balstrode both very good. David Alden directed.

It suffered from Act 2-itis. The establishment was fine; the denouement was fine; but the bit in the middle, explanatory with less dramatic tension, failed to fizz rather. Though the hue and cry starts with the drum and reaches Grimes's hut just after the boy has died, so there's quite a lot of action in fact!

Act 1 was hugely impressive for its momentum. It was clear who everybody was, there were effective cameos and the recitatives needed no subtitles. None of this is necessarily true of many operas.

There were trestles on stage which served for the fish market tables. I noted the back wall in the pub in the storm (though I can't now remember why). The "nieces" were played cleverly as twin sisters in school uniform.

There were some problems with the updtaing to the 1940s (when it was written). There are spivs, flat caps, period women's fashions, but that does leave you with some difficulties over sailing boats, carts and what not.

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