Tonight, Friday 24 August, ENO performs Peter Grimes at the Proms. Edward Gardner conducts, and the cast is largely the same as the 2009 cast for David Alden’s award-winning production. As in 2009, Stuart Skelton takes the title role.
I can’t be there, sadly, but I was lucky enough to be invited to hear the first sitzprobe yesterday. From what I heard, I would urge anyone within 100 miles of South Ken to beg, borrow, steal, bribe, sell your children for a ticket. From a stalls seat in the cavernous hall, empty but for a dozen ENO / BBC worker bees buzzing around with cables and scores and good ears, I got to hear the lynch mob roar and Britten’s unheroic hero soar.
Converting a staged opera production to a concert presentation has its challenges. There’ll be minimal costuming, apparently. No wellies and sou’westers, but everyone has a prop. The chorus have their hymnbooks, Balstrode has a rakish captain’s hat and Mrs Sedley has a Margaret Thatcher handbag which you suspect is heavily armed. Small touches, but just enough to create a veil of theatricality, to make the point that this is a drama, with singers transformed into characters, rather than simply performing wonderful music.
Whatever they’ve done to the Royal Albert Hall acoustics since I was last there (which is, ahem, more than two decades ago), it works. The shattering cry of ‘Peter Grimes!’ hangs in the air, but the words are crystal clear (thank you, everyone for your excellent diction…) Having the orchestra in full view on stage is also a real treat. I’m not going to pass judgement on the singing because it was a working out things kind of rehearsal. It sounded bloody marvellous to me, but I suspect there’ll be much more tonight. And look out for the final scene. Always a devastating moment, but while I was there the staff director (I’m sorry, I don’t know their name) came up with a to use the space which I think will work brilliantly.
Thank you, ENO, Stuart, everyone. Great morning.