Grimes is Britten's masterpiece. Despite every excellent aspect of the later operas (and they are all wonderful) Britten never surpassed the naturalness, directness, and sheer beauty of Grimes. This production is, as the other reviewer says, superb. Whatever Alan Blyth says in Gramophone (and I bow to his wisdom on all matters) the staging by the ENO, and the set designs by Bechtler, allow the violence, terror, and tenderness of Grimes to emerge both through him and around him. Blyth rejects what he calls Brechtian style minimalism. But the simplicity of the sets promote the complexity of the relationships between the villagers, Grime, Balstrode and Orford. Performing those parts, Langridge, Cairns and Opie are faultless. Cairns herself wins out with the most heartfelt Orford and Grimes' rejection of her is gripping and painful. Pain is, of course, at the core of this opera - the pain caused by the 'gossips', the pain inflicted by Grimes, the pain of love. But there is also black humour - surely there is nothing more amusing than Mrs. Sedley stalking the night in search of drugs.
For me, no recording will ever surpass the Britten/Pears Decca set - this is, whatever one thinks of Pears, the benchmark recording. But interpretation is the lifeblood of this music and keeping the spirit of Britten and Grimes alive is so essential. Only a few decades after his death Britten's music still hasn't reached the kind of audience that one would hope for it. It should because it has so much to tell us about contemporary society. An opera which raises key questions about the right to a just and fair hearing before the law, the rights of children, and the responsibilities of citizens seems to me as pertinent as music gets.
Replace your VHS if you have one - the DVD wins out. If you never had it, get hold of a copy.