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Peter Grimes [DVD] [NTSC]
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Philip Langridge, Janice Cairns and Alan Opie star in Tim Albery's production of Benjamin Britten's opera for the English National Opera.
Benjamin Britten's dour masterpiece Peter Grimes has been well-served in video recordings, yet this stark, intense production may become the top choice for most viewers. One of its major attractions is outstanding camerawork, under the direction of Barrie Gavin, powerfully reinforcing the shifting moods created by the music. The photography is notable in frequent close-ups, particularly those that focus on the ravaged, vulnerable and intensely expressive face of Philip Langridge in the title role. His interpretation is strikingly different from that of his chief video rival, Jon Vickers, who presents a more burly characterisation.
The ambiguities in the role of Grimes make it possible to emphasise either strength or vulnerability in this story of an alienated fisherman, who stands virtually alone against a small (and small-minded society), vast forces of nature and a run of bad luck. His young apprentice has died (possibly because of his neglect or brutality); he is legally acquitted but found guilty by his neighbours and forbidden to take another boy as apprentice. He ignores that warning, the second boy dies accidentally, and he commits suicide under intense public pressure.
Langridge gives a striking account of the role's psychological depth and complexity, aided by a well-chosen and directed cast. James Atherton conducts expertly. The chorus and orchestra are first-class, and the famous sea interludes, which have found a secure place in the concert repertoire, are visually enhanced by views of the ocean and shoreline. --Joe McLellan --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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This film of the original ENO version wonderfully preserves these feelings of a great human tragedy set into music by Britains - in my opinion - greatest composer of the passed century.
All the singers are near to perfection in both singing and acting. The orchestra plays with fire and extreme power but has also the colours of lyricism. And the little but very important part of the apprentice-boy is a unforgetting portrayal in this production.
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.
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