Peter Grimes in New York

Peter Grimes (concert performance)

Peter Grimes – Glenn Winslade
Ellen Orford – Janice Watson
Balstrode – Anthony Michaels-Moore
Auntie – Jill Grove
First Niece – Sally Matthews
Second Niece – Alison Buchanan
Bob Boles – Christopher Gillett
Swallow – James Rutherford
Mrs Sedley – Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Rector – Ryland Davies
Ned Keene – Richard Byrne (replacing Nathan Gunn)
Hobson – Jonathan Lemalu

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 January, 2004
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series celebrated the 100th-anniversary of the LSO, the first European orchestra to tour the U.S. in 1912, with three concerts at Avery Fisher Hall lead by Sir Colin Davis. The three-concert series included Britten’s Peter Grimes on January 18, followed by an all-Sibelius program on January 19, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 and Stravinsky’s The Firebird on January 21.

There was great anticipation over all three concerts, but especially over the performance of Peter Grimes. The very special program marked a unique anniversary in the musical career of Sir Colin Davis, who made his United States debut conducting Peter Grimes at the Metropolitan Opera on January 20, 1967. Performers for this concert performance, with one exception (baritone Richard Byrne stepping in at extremely short notice for Nathan Gunn in the role of Ned Keene), were the same as for the LSO performances earlier in January at London’s Barbican Hall. The hardy audience that braved snowy winds to make it to Avery Fisher Hall on this Sunday afternoon was rewarded with a riveting and memorable performance.

From the stark opening scene of the inquest, in which the reclusive fisherman Peter Grimes is called to give evidence into the death of his apprentice, Sir Colin Davis demonstrated a superb command of the score, dramatically as well as musically. Using energetic body language, he elicited an astonishing performance in which the instrumental detail and multi-layered vocal textures of the haunting score emerged with extraordinary clarity and definition. This was the most intense and powerful conducting I have ever heard from Davis.

The Australian tenor Glenn Winslade, who sang Grimes, has a sizeable voice with a plaintive lyric quality well-suited to the title character, and at best his singing was profoundly affecting, as in the ruminative coda to Act One, “What harbour shelters peace?” However, he seemed to lack the required stamina in this performance. As the afternoon wore on, his voice turned thin, and he resorted to shouting some of the more heroic outbursts near the end of the third act. Overall, however, he provided a strongly moving portrayal of the title character.

The rest of the cast members were uniformly magnificent. Soprano Janice Watson brought an uncommon vocal vibrancy to the role of Ellen Orford, and baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore was an especially striking and robust Balstrode. Mezzo–soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers with her brilliant voice, granny glasses and flaming red hair, was a vocally and visually effective Mrs Sedley. The other, smaller roles were all extremely well taken, including Richard Byrne as Ned Keene and Ryland Davies as the rector.

The work of the London Symphony Chorus deserves special mention. Extremely articulate and dramatically involved, these singers produced a fine body of sound over an astonishingly wide dynamic range. Their cries of “Peter Grimes, Peter Grimes” near the end of Act Three were especially chilling.

But in the end, it was the work of Sir Colin Davis and the LSO that was most impressive. This was a powerful and convincing account of this magnificent opera, and a performance from which it was impossible to be left unmoved.

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