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Britten: Peter Grimes

11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The first audio-visual recording of this essential opera, conducted by the composer. The only version to star Peter Pears, who originated the title role. Directed by Joan Cross, who originated the role of Ellen Orford.

This 1969 BBC production is about as close as we can get to a definitive version of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, one of the greatest 20th Century operas. The story of the individualistic fisherman hounded by his neighbors who believe he murdered his young apprentice packs tremendous emotional power. The compelling narrative is richly enhanced by its subtexts: the lone outsider versus the conformist mob; the dreamer of improbable dreams that lead to tragedy; the artist (dreamer) versus the Philistines, and the homosexual overtones of Grimes’ abuse of his child apprentices. Britten is conductor of his work and tenor Peter Pears is Grimes, 25 years after he created the title role at the opera’s premiere. Britten was a great conductor as his recordings of his own and others’ music attests, and here he outdoes himself with a performance that captures both the brooding darkness of the work and its visceral power. Pears at first seems a bit old for the part and his throaty voice no match for the overwhelming Grimes of Jon Vickers in a later Covent Garden production with Colin Davis conducting. But if Pears hasn’t the protean force of Vickers, he was there at the creation of the part, knows its every nuance and shading, and is totally convincing as an actor as well--proud, aloof, yet vulnerable. As the widow Ellen Orford, soprano Heather Harper is magnificent. Singing with tonal beauty and acting the role of the sensitive, morally sturdy woman who loves Grimes when all hate him, she is so convincing that when the out-of-control Grimes slaps her, you feel assaulted yourself. The supporting cast is excellent too, headed by baritone Bryon Drake as the dignified, sensible Balstrode, the retired sea captain. David Myerscough-Jones’ production design, on a cramped, makeshift stage at Britten’s Snape Maltings concert hall, with the London Symphony on an off-camera rear platform, works better than it should. The staging is by Joan Cross, who sang Ellen in the opera’s premiere. Movements of the chorus and soloists are economical but realistic, the settings appropriate, the costumes wisely helping to set the action in the early 19th century. Best of all, the sea is an ever-present actor here. When we don’t see it in the background it exerts its presence in the abundant visual references to nets, barrels, and other paraphernalia of a seaside fishing village. The wonderful Interludes Britten composed for the opera are illustrated with abstract images of shifting colors that mimic the movements of sea and clouds, as well as the orchestral colors being played--thus yellows dominate when the trumpets do, darker colors when the lower strings are in the ascendant. Brian Large’s direction for TV is first-rate, with closeups that enhance the intimacy of the work. The end result is an unforgettable version of a work that leaves you emotionally drained and musically elevated. --Dan Davis

Peter Grimes is an all-regions color disc in 4:3 ratio. Sound options include LPCM monophonic and Enhanced Dolby mono. Sung in English, subtitles are available in English French, German and Spanish.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Peter Pears, Heather Harper, Bryan Drake, Elizabeth Bainbridge, Owen Brannigan
  • Directors: Joan Cross, Benjamin Britten
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Classical, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Decca Records
  • DVD Release Date: July 8, 2008
  • Run Time: 150 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012L0TFM
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,676 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Dr. John W. Rippon VINE VOICE on July 31, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
How very lucky we are to have the release of the TV movie version dated 1969 of Britten's Peter Grimes. All the more so because we have the composer Benjamin Britten conducting and his partner Peter Pears who created the title role of Peter in what is certainly one of the greatest operas of the twentieth century. Pears projection of the character is superb; a troubled, confused yet resolute individual trying to fit in the village. The excellent Heather Harper as Ellen tries to reach Peter but can't. Ann Robson is commendable as the opium-dazed Mrs. Sedley the village gossip who with the drunk, failed Methodist minister Bob Boles turns the village against Grimes. All the singer/actors are very well cast. Because of the constraints of time and space, the opera had to be filmed in very small quarters on an adaptable, rotational ramp set cleverly conceived by David Myerscough-Jones. So well done that it belies the crampted space and one doesn't miss the opera house. The marvelous sea interludes were played against a series of absract images projected on gauze. The whole effect is of a misty, oppressive, constantly changing sea and the fragility of the lives that try to tame it. This is a beautiful work, beautifully done.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By S. Hansen on July 18, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I just got the DVD and was blown away by it. I saw this performance on TV (black & while, rabbit ears, lots of snow) back around 1970 and had fond memories of it. I'm not sure how much restoration the recording required but the video is very good and the mono audio is fine. Peter Pears, of course, is incomparable and the rest of the cast is superb as are the staging and overall performance.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Col William Russell (ret) on August 13, 2008
Format: DVD
This is the only opera written after Puccini's TURANDOT that I consider to be an opera, let alone a masterpiece. If you enjoy GRIMES, my recommendation is to get this superb telecast plus the one with Vickers. Two very different interpretations that cannot be equalled today in any opera house. Britten wrote GRIMES for Pears so we have that link here as well as Britten's marvelous conducting. Vickers' Grimes is more tragic while Pears is pathetic but both deserve to be seen as two sides of one coin. Picture quality, sound, and supporting cast are top-rate.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A. Levina on July 31, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
In my opinion, this film is as close to the definitive staging of Britten's masterpiece as one can hope to get. If only Peter Pears was 25 years younger! When the opera was premiered in 1945, he was 35, and Joan Cross, who played Ellen Orford, was 45. I think that this is the ideal age for Grimes and Ellen. For a casual viewer, it would be hard to make sense from the story of the opera, when the title character is obviously older than anyone else in the village (as in this film). Nevertheless, we have to be very grateful for the opportunity to see Pears in the role of Grimes. As to the question of whether he was too urbane and sophisticated for this character... Well, Jon Vickers has made Grimes more conventionally operatic and "heroic", but Pears knew better what it is all about (being present at the conception of the opera). I particularly liked his very fine and revealing interpretation of the Passacaglia.

The advantages of this production are particularly clear compared with some recent stagings of the opera (e.g., one at the Met in 2007, which I found terrible). It also seems to me that the attempts to transfer the action to the 20th century (e.g., Opera North) are misplaced. What about buying apprentices from a workhouse? In fact, the universal meanings of this opera become more, rather than less, clear when it is put into its proper historical and geographical context.

There are some inevitable technical slips related to a life performance (e.g., the Nieces singing "together we are safe" are not in fact together). For a perfect musical rendering, one should go Britten's Decca recording of 1958. The current film provides a perfect complement to this recording and an incomparable historical document.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on January 18, 2011
Format: DVD
That's what it says right on the box, and for a change I enthusiastically agree. Everything works together in this opera - the dramaturgy and the music - to fulfill the fundamental objective of the genre, a total synthesis of words, music, and theatrics. Likewise, everything works in this production, a film made for BBC broadcast in 1969, in color, staged and recorded in a small studio, conducted by Britten himself and starring Britten's long-time collaborator Peter Pears. I have two other DVDs of this extraordinary opera, both of them quite good, but this production is iconic, a supernova of affective art. Yes, "modern" opera is valid!

Peter Pears created the role of 'Peter Grimes' in the premiere of the opera on stage. Grimes is a rough, hard-bitten, antipathetic fisherman, ostracized by his community for his cruelty and abuse of his boy apprentice. In fact, he is suspected of having murdered the boy by mistreatment. The drama begins with a coroner's inquest, which rules that the boy's death was accidental. Grimes is defended, and loved, by the schoolmistress Ellen Orford, who helps him acquire another boy from the workhouse-orphanage. The role of Orford is sung magnificently here by Heather Harper; her presence and voice, and the lyrical music written for that presence, is as warm as sunshine bursting through a drenching rain.

The scenes of the opera are all in the village: on the wharf, in the street, inside the local brothel, and in Grimes's hut. These are clearly 'sets' such as might be used in an opera house production, giving us the illusion of the living stage. The BBC deserves all reverence and adulation for pioneering the genre of opera films and operas on TV. Hurray for public broadcasting! Hurray for government patronage of the arts!
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