A shattering Peter Grimes

This was a bit of a whimsical purchase – last minute (well, day before anyway), I grabbed the last pair of tickets available in the balcony at ENO on any date for Peter Grimes, on the strength of the reviews.  What a decision:  hoorah for spontaneity…

Absolutely fantastic, despite attempts to disrupt by the peasants around us (more anon…).  Skelton’s Grimes was a lost youth, never properly grown up.  His isolation was only enhanced, in my view, by the controversial aspects of the production, namely the rather excessive and odd treatment of the minor figures of the Borough.  They were very odd indeed at times, but that just seemed to contribute a dislocation that made Grimes’ own situation the more ambiguous – and tragic.

Felicity Palmer was tremendous as Mrs Sedley – and when she let loose in her monologue about murder being her interest, she was like a demented Miss Marple.  She crept malevolently around key scenes, and was her typical characterful and ‘present’ self.  Gerald Finley was also strong.  Is it me, or has everything I’ve seen him in recently required him to wear a coat draped over his shoulders without the arms through the sleeves?!  He carries it off well, anyhow!

But as Ellen Orford…  Amanda Roocroft was just amazing.  She just managed to capture the desperation, hope and piousness perfectly.  Her whispered ‘no!’ when Balstrode tells Grimes to take the boat out of sight was perfectly judged to bring home the shattering implications of Balstrode’s proposal.  Wonderous.  Dame Amanda, without hesitation…

I was also pleased to be reacquainted with the ENO orchestra which, under Gardner, were tremendous – I can scarcely remember hearing them so good.  The future is clearly bright for ENO.  But that doesn’t mean I can forgive the venue…

I’m sure that ENO needs a 2,800-seat auditorium to make the economics work, but it really is an alienating space if you can’t afford the top prices.   And the pricing is odd.  Essentially if you want to go beyond the phenomenally uncomfortable Balcony, the prices jump alarmingly.  At Covent Garden there are a range of options for different seats and, yes, they are more expensive, but at least you’re getting something that is reliably international.  If everything at ENO was like this Grimes, then all these gripes disappear.  It will still take a little while to banish memories of, for example, the Beito Don Giovanni and the lame Carmen, before I will be relaxed about splashing out £70+ for the better seats.

[And for the record, I liked the surtitles – they weren’t needed for most of it, but when I did need them, they were there.  Simple as that…]

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