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. Superb.
I saw this production in the early 1990ies at the Munich "Staatsoper" and was very impressed by the whole work - one of the real "classics" of 20th century musical drama. 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.
This is one of the great 20th century operas; Britten's music is dramatic, lyrical and atmospheric. The ENO production is top notch. Inevitably, the tale itself leaves a sour taste in one's mouth given that it is unrelentingly bleak. It depicts humanity at its most unforgiving, humanity as brutish and ugly. And yet, there are beautiful moments, for example, the solo scene for Ellen Orford with the Church choir in the background; the female quartet: "do we cry or do we weep" at the end of ACT II is achingly beautiful and the orchestration is ethereal. But, there is no redemption in this piece, the choruses are packed with narrow ugliness and anger. This is ultimately music without hope, the orchestral beauties in the score have nothing to hang unto but a kind of grim despair. A dose of Cosi Fan Tutti by Mozart is needed after this!