Peter Grimes, Opera by B. Britten
British neoclassical composer Benjamin Britten was not a natural success in the world of opera, but Peter Grimes was his first big hit in the genre. The drama in three acts had its premiere on 7 June 1945 at Sadler’s Wells in London. It quickly found its place in the standard repertoire and receives regular revivals to this day. Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice puts on a performance of Peter Grimes that oozes with atmospheric moods and stays true to the sombre British original. This season, take a trip to the gloomy fishermen’s village and witness a tale of doubt, death, and isolation garnered with Benjamin Britten’s rousing choruses and poignant solo spots.
The origins of Peter Grimes lie in the narrative poem of the same name by George Crabbe. In his book of poetry entitled ‘The Borough’, the author explored the idiosyncrasies and frustrations of small-town English coastal life. The fictional fishing town was not unlike Crabbe’s and Britten’s abode of Aldeburgh on the Albion’s east coast, so both men let some real-life experiences flow into their art. Montagu Slater transformed the poem into a libretto, and Britten put the gloomy story to some of his most evocative music. With hindsight, the opera reflects a lot of the unpleasant experiences of homosexual men in Britten’s England and serves as a powerful metaphor for their plight and the numerous prejudices they faced.
A tragic hero like no other, Peter Grimes is a poor fisherman who is trying to fit into the Borough’s polite society. He is working hard to earn the money and respect necessary to propose to his beloved Ellen in good standing, and yet fate has other plans for him. The opera’s opening finds him facing an inquest into his apprentice’s death at sea. Even though the coroner testifies the boy’s demise was an unfortunate accident, the townspeople remain convinced Peter Grimes has murdered him. As the townspeople rise against Peter, he finds himself in a spiral of disillusionment, destruction, and death. Britten’s gripping musical drama is coming to La Fenice!