San Diego Opera had only presented Benjamin Britten’s ultimate masterpiece “Peter Grimes” in one previous season, 25 years ago. Its revival, again utilizing Carl Toms’ sets, returned for the 2009 Season, hugely enriched with American lyric tenor Anthony Dean Griffey. More than “starring” as Peter Grimes, Griffey dynamically personalized this gritty role, living it and making it his own.
[Below: Anthony Dean Griffey as Peter Grimes; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
He was accompanied by a stellar cast well suited for this very emotionally moving work – which I believe is without any doubt Britain’s greatest opera. But Mr Griffey had just done “Peter Grimes” at the Met in 2008 which many of us (including me) saw in the Met theaters “near us” in their grossly minimalist production (like their mounting of Richard Jones’ production of Humperdinck’s “Hansel und Gretel”), in which he also garnered thunderous applause.
San Diego Opera’s stage production was, most happily, the total opposite of minimalist. Some of us feel this piece requires every nuance of visual inspiration provided by the salt-air sea, foghorns, the “Boar” pub, the ambience of the waterfront . . . .
The sets were those of the late Carl Toms, and were created (and funded by Iowa’s Gramma Fisher Foundation) for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the San Francisco Opera in 1973. The costumes were from the Met, with all these elements working very well together for a salt-air, moody, theatrical presentation.
[Below: part of Carl Toms’ sets for Peter Grimes; above Auntie (Judith Christin) and the Apothecary (Kristopher Irmiter) share thoughts about Grimes (Anthony Dean Griffey, below); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
The opera is dominated by the chorus’ many striking numbers, like the chanting of Grimes is at his exercise when the villagers hear Grimes is making his new boy-apprentice work on a Sunday!
The remarkable cast included frequent San Diego Opera guest artists. Well known American bass-baritone John Del Carlo appeared in the nifty role of Swallow, a lawyer is who the local village-mayor and coroner.
[Below: John del Carlo as Swallow; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
A personal note: Your reviewer lives by the sea and has for decades. My bed is but 25 feet from a tidal salt water bay. The ever present sound of the sea, the storms, the fog, the wind, and the foghorns – so skillfully presented by Britten in “Peter Grimes” – are in my soul.
But to the point: a dory fleet has been located in Newport, California since 1891. Like in Britten’s home by the sea in Aldeburgh, England, fishing boats put to sea, often with an apprentice, hoping to return with a fine catch. But there are times when some do not return.
[Below: the Orange County dory fishing fleet’s headquarters in Newport Beach; photograph by Tom.]
Every time I pass this scene, all I hear is Britten’s music and the chorus shouting “Peter Grimes, Peter Grimes”.
[Below: A dory fishing boat with “apprentices” at Newport, California; photograph by Tom.]