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Britten: Peter Grimes

4.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Reginald Goodall conducts this classic performance of Benjamin Britten's popular opera.

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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

None.

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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012L0TFM
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,021 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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The first viewing of this, one of my favorite operas, worked me up as though I were experiencing it for the first time. I've seen Vickers, I've heard Pears, I've seen a number of video performance by others (including Chris Ventris who was superb) but Griffey offers the finest Grimes in my experience. The sweetness and clarity of tone he brings to the role adds a level that enhanced the character to a degree almost unimaginable. The detail of the acting of each role simply mind boggling and completely believable. Often one gets tremendous "acting" performances which can make me forgive some vocal shortcomings, but here each role was sung with such precision and beauty and music and text wedded sublimely.

I also enjoyed Dessay's introduction, especially just as the performance was ready to
begin as she warns us to settle in for "the sad, horrible story of Peter Grimes."

It's a different beast watching it on screen than in the house, (of course), and I wonder if this is one of those productions better served by seeing it on screen than on stage. As a "movie" the set was simply tremendous and a perfect vehicle to display all the many characters that inhabit the Borough. The screen captures an intimacy not quite possible if one was forced to stare at the set the entire time, our eyes relieved and training on specific details rather than having to pick them out from the "whole." Generally, I'm less
inclined to like this than live, but this one really, really worked.

Patricia Racette is simply stunning as Ellen. No singer today sings in English like this girl. Every word, even on some of those (few) high notes was understandable and filled with meaning.
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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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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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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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