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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic English opera everyone should see
This is a 1969 studio recording directed by Joan Cross, who created Ellen Orford in the original stage production in 1945. It is in remarkably good sound and colour picture quality and has transferred well to DVD. The opera is staged well in limited studio facilities, in simple but effective sets (which only occasionally appear a little cardboardy!). Peter Pears here...
Published on 29 Oct 2008 by 221b

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ...BUT FOR THE BEST OF PETER PEARS...
I think I agree on most points with reviewer '221b' (is that his bus home?). Let me enforce the fact that this is virtually the current English Opera Group production and -for that alone- it is a considerable historical document. For strong and challenging live performances/productions, go to Vickers or Ventris or (best) Langridge at ENO, but have this Pears DVD as an...
Published on 6 July 2009 by Richard di Calatrava


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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic English opera everyone should see, 29 Oct 2008
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This is a 1969 studio recording directed by Joan Cross, who created Ellen Orford in the original stage production in 1945. It is in remarkably good sound and colour picture quality and has transferred well to DVD. The opera is staged well in limited studio facilities, in simple but effective sets (which only occasionally appear a little cardboardy!). Peter Pears here recreates his central performance of the lead role - it's a great shame he didn't commit this earlier in his career. Whilst it is great to have a visual record of him, he lacks the power and brute force for the role which we are more accustomed to seeing in modern productions. He looks a highly improbably fisherman - described in the opening scene as "callous, brutal and coarse" - rather he gives me the impression of a somewhat faded aristocrat in his twilight years! But vocally he brings his unique ethereal sound to the haunted man, making him a true outsider.
However, this quibble aside, this is a very satisfying DVD with fabulous performances from the supporting cast, all with great diction. How lucky we are to see and hear Owen Brannigan's amazing bass! I found the composer's own conducting of the score a little scrappy on occasions, but the drama of the piece soon carries you away and the climax of the orchestral Passacaglia is absolutely superb! Peter Grimes is one of those key operas that everyone should see, and this production is a great introduction for anyone who hasn't been lucky enough to see it before.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely sad story to a beautiful music, 7 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
An opera like this one is surprising in many ways but this is a special BBC production of 1969 and I would like to insist first on the tremendous qualities of this production.

The first element is the setting. It is a complete village square surrounded by wooden houses all raised over the ground with outside staircases to go up to the main doors. These raised houses insist on the danger the sea represents when a tidal wave or a storm comes up to the coast. All made of wood. That's a brilliant idea and yet it is entirely unrealistic. It wants to be out of time and set in a past that could make the story plausible. That village looks like a pioneering settlement in New England in the 18th century, a puritan settlement in a way where everyone is meddling with the business of others because they are locked away from the world, and their only entertainment is to gossip and accuse the one they don't like of all abominable crimes.

The second is the house of Peter Grimes, or hut if you prefer. It looks like an upturned ship hull, a dream for many seamen who want to live on the earth as if they were on their boats. It is not without recalling some other uses of that concept, and in a way it reminds me of Moby Dick and of the whale which swallowed Jonas. Here the boat is swallowing the seaman even on the earth.

The third positive point is the use of crowds. The chorus is not in anyway set aside or gathered in one place. The chorus singers are moving as they were a real crowd and that gives a good illusion of the mass movements of a crowd when they are more or less chasing Peter Grimes.

The fourth point is the very clear distinction between the officials of the village and that crowd. They move alone and not along with a mass of people and they are dressed in a slightly different way. The lawyer and mayor for example with his red coat, or Ellen, the widowed school-teacher, with a knitted sweater and a big brooch. There is thus a clear distinction between the important people and the common people, on top of the fact that the former are the soloists.

The story is of course what is essential in that opera that is telling us a story. It is a very bleak story. Peter Grimes, a solitary sailor, needs an apprentice and he takes orphans from the workhouse in the next but rather distant city. The profession of fisherman is a very difficult profession with many hazards and we could say it is not a profession for children of let's say 10. What's more Peter Grimes seems to be rather rough and careless. In other words his apprentices seem to die by accident in a rather repetitive way. Helped by Ellen at first, he is abandoned by her when she discovers that the new apprentice is being brutalized. One day when trying to run away from the hostile crowd climbing up to his hut, the new apprentice slips and falls off the cliff to his death. Peter Grimes hides away for a couple of days but he has to come back and there a retired captain gives him the only piece of advice that would pacify the village: take tour boat, go out at sea and sink the boat and yourself. And he does it.

The story is depicting a brutal world that is not so much so physically, but I would say socially. The people are meddling with their neighbors' business all the time, creating tension and stress and pushing people to the brink of sanity and causing over-reactions more than anything else. This is perfectly rendered in this production.

But there is of course the music and that is also a great element in the opera. The music never ceases and is always dramatic in its movements up and down in the most logical and yet surprising ways. We cannot really know what is coming and the notes are thus separated one from the others as if the strings of notes were in fact successions of unlinked notes. This creates in the solos a strange feeling of distance, of something lurking in-between the notes, something menacing us constantly. That tone and atmosphere finds its acme with the choruses. The various chorus-singers sing together but most of the times along lines and patterns that are crisscrossing one another to give that impression of a hostile crowd no one can stop or dominate. There is one exception to that disorder. It is the early duet of Ellen Orford and Peter Grimes when they plan some kind of common future with the new child to come. The sentences are perfectly superimposed one onto the other with only the pronouns changing. The contrast between this messy and meddling crowd as long as Peter Grimes is alive and the sudden total ignorance and forgetfulness once he is gone, meaning dead, is of course striking thanks to that use of the music to build a dangerous and menacing environment.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unique ; not perfect, but essential, 26 Aug 2010
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hillbank68 "almac1975" (Fife, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I would accept pretty well everything that 221b and M. Joyce say in their reviews, and perhaps the small imperfections in this presentation might edge a reviewer towards 4 stars instead of 5. But this is the great revitalising post-War English opera, the product of Britten's time in the States and return to Suffolk, drawn back partly by Forster's essay on Crabbe and nostalgia for his roots, and here it is conducted by the composer, the principal role taken by Peter Pears, his closest companion and collaborator, staged by the first Ellen, Joan Cross, and filmed in the Maltings, the concert hall Britten and Pears established as central to their Aldeburgh festival. Really, we are so lucky to have this. It is true that there are occasional problems of ensemble between chorus and orchestra and in the orchestra itself, most notably at the beginning of the 'Morning' interlude, where the strings/woodwind and brass want to play at different tempi. It is true that the confined space at the Maltings is sometimes evident, though actually that could be said to intensify the claustrophobic atmosphere of The Borough. It is true that Sir Peter, a wonderful vocal actor, sometimes cuts a rather strange figure in the role, visually rather than vocally (he has a tendency to move rather stiffly, for example). But there is so, so much that is excellent that I have no wish to carp. No doubt Pears's voice was stronger when he was younger, but there is tremendous pathos and involvement in his performance. The set is good and the movement onstage mostly convincing and, when required, dramatic. We can of course be confident that Britten's approach to the score is authoritative, and in fact he was an excellent conductor, so much so that I wonder whether the small blemishes arose from difficulties within the orchestra of hearing clearly in the space - but of course I don't know. Overall, it is a vivid and dramatic presentation. I do find the recording a bit bass-heavy (in particular the timpani are rather 'boomy'). But from the first moment to the last, the production draws you in ; it's riveting. 4 stars? - no, it's 5 ; for all its minor frailties, this is a just production of a masterpiece, a very moving link with the past.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Grimes - Snape 1969, 14 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This was filmed for TV under studio conditions, but has the energy and feel of a live performance. And it is a riveting performance.

Peter Pears is mesmerising in the title role, which he sings superbly, is a convincing actor, and has terrific stage presence. The poetic, haunted, and manic aspects of the role come over well, and he somehow manages to look both aristocratic and grizzled. Heather Harper is a sympathetic Ellen Orford. The other cast and chorus are very good, clearly relishing their contributions. The realistic staging is atmospheric. Benjamin Britten conducts his work as it should go, injecting plenty of energy, momentum and colour into a fairly brisk reading.

Carefully remastered, picture and sound quality are very good, quite reasonable even by today's standards. There are optional subtitles. The performance held my interest enough to play it straight through in one go. At the asking price of under £10 (at the time of writing) this DVD is highly recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ...BUT FOR THE BEST OF PETER PEARS..., 6 July 2009
By 
Richard di Calatrava (Dorchester, Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I think I agree on most points with reviewer '221b' (is that his bus home?). Let me enforce the fact that this is virtually the current English Opera Group production and -for that alone- it is a considerable historical document. For strong and challenging live performances/productions, go to Vickers or Ventris or (best) Langridge at ENO, but have this Pears DVD as an adjunct.

However, for Pears & co. at their very best, buy the companion DVD Billy Budd...it is just breathtaking, with Pears absolutely stunning as Captain Vere. Vocally, he (and Glossop as Billy, for that matter)surpasses himself on the similarly-cast Decca recording from the following year. Mackerras offers a valid alternative to Britten himself, conducting a very dramatic performance. Go for it!!!!!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A definitive "Grimes", 18 Jun 2010
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M. Joyce (Cairo, Egypt) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This was filmed at the Snape Maltings in 1969 and, inevitably, the sound and picture quality cannot compete with modern standards. However, this production can claim to be well nigh definitive, featuring, as it does, the final performance of Peter Pears of the role he created back in 1945 and the conducting of the composer himself. Other links with the original production include Owen Brannigan, a splendidly orotund Swallow, and Joan Cross, the original Ellen Orford, who here assumes the mantle of stage director. The filming of the opera involved, according to the sleeve-notes, "ingenuity, not to say, discomfort" in accommodating sets, cameras, technicians, singers and orchestra (who remain out of shot). This is very much a filmed opera and the staging is most effective. Distant, abstract images projected onto gauze accompany the atmospheric interludes between each act. Musically, this is a darker, more taut version than the Decca recording made a decade earlier and the singers are uniformly excellent. Heather Harper was, perhaps, the greatest interpreter of Ellen and sings beautifully and while Bryan Drake is not especially distinctive as Balstrode, he sings well enough. Gregory Dempsey is a riveting Bob Boles and Ann Robson, a singer who deserved greater renown, is an excellent Mrs Sedley, which is, of course, a gift of a part. Elizabeth Bainbridge was the reigning Auntie at Covent Garden for many years and she is here supported by two wonderful sopranos, Jill Gomez and Anne Pashley, as her "nieces." The young Robert Tear is a marvellous Rector. Which leaves us with Sir Peter. He sings beautifully, of course, and inflects the words with great sensitivity. His acting is very moving, but somehow he does not, for me at any rate, capture the essence of the rough fisherman, so brilliantly realised by Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts for Opera North a couple of years ago. Perhaps he just lacks the "physique du rôle," I don't know. He is, however, wonderful and it seems almost mean-spirited to criticise his performance. Lovers of Britten should buy this without hesitation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Grimes, 29 May 2014
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B. Mitchell - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
This recording fulfilled all my expectations and I simply have no more to say except thank you so very much
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5.0 out of 5 stars great preformance from 1969 colour, 19 May 2014
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
was brand new and sealed condition,colour preformance and like was done yestyerday.very good cast of the time well worth the low price.good picture&sound quality
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who are you calling crabby?, 18 May 2013
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This review is from: Peter Grimes: (The Britten-Pears collection) [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
Not much Crabbe gets in Britten's net. Ironically for a Pears vehicle, the chorus and Heather Harper are the stars in this piece of Wozzeck-and-water, as I believe Thomas Adès snarkily described it; I'm afraid it'd the Englishness I have a problem with. This DVD novice was appalled to find the whole thing mimed*, possibly bar a few spoken words near the end (Pears's gurning distractingly suggestive of Michael Parkinson) and suggest you (a) see it a performance (b) get a CD (c) read Crabbe instead - but not Grimes, most melodramatic and least convincing among his sombre oeuvre. Other reviewers hymn the sets; I was thinking Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Wouldn't something expressionist have been more fitting for this dark allegory of repression? But I forget, this is England - and then there are those awkward comedy elements. A Jerry Springer-style life of Jimmy Savile (or even Rolf Harris? watch this space) - now that would be something! I'm afraid Britten is the Coventry Cathedral of music. Who was the last Italian to call good Sir Basil maestro? How many Brits even recall Spence's name? Come, friendly bombs..

* I have been roundly corrected on this. My TV must be at fault. Or my brain
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