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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

on 6 May 2014
I have three versions of this opera on DVD/Blu-ray, all of them are good, with subtle differences between them.
The oldest is the Royal Opera recording with Jon Vickers and Heather Harper, conducted by Colin Davis, dating from 1981. The second is the Met performance with Anthony Dean Griffey and Patricia Racette, conducted by Donald Runnicles, dating from 2008. The third is the recent (2013) Aldeburgh on the Beach performance with Alan Oke and Giselle Allen conducted by Steuart Bedford.
The two opera house recordings have crowded, claustrophobic sets, whereas the wide sprawling set on Aldeburgh beach emphasises the presence of nature. The Royal opera set is the most conventional of the three. The Met set often compartmentalises the singers. The Aldeburgh beach set is a very impressive panorama, brilliantly designed and implemented. However it does reduce the scale of the performers, who become more vulnerable to the forces of nature.
The singing and performances are excellent on all three recordings.
The sound quality is best on the Met production.
There are many layers to the opera.
Two factors bear down on Peter Grimes: the forces of nature and the forces of society. The stage productions can only hint at the forces of nature, while the Aldeburgh production actually adds the scale of nature to the power of the music.
Grimes is undoubtedly an unpleasant loner with a temper. He loves Ellen Orford, a widowed school teacher who describes her life in drab terms. He is overplayed as a tortured soul in the Met performance. His very ordinariness on Aldeburgh beach gives him a greater depth as the action progresses, he is a flawed everyman rather than a misunderstood poet.
The people of the Borough, the local village, oscillate between acceptance of each other’s oddities and brutal mob-rule. They are overplayed as black predators in the two stage versions, but again their very ordinariness on Aldeburgh beach gives a more chilling climax as the individuals merge into a mob. When they finally re-emerge as individuals getting on with their lives once rid of Grimes, the brutality of the mob they became is underlined and we are left in no doubt of the chilling capacity for good people to get drawn into mass vindictiveness.
The singers wear microphones for the Aldeburgh beach performance. I live in Sydney and am used to open air operatic events on Sydney Harbour (The Handa Opera) and so am not concerned about singers with microphones and amplifiers. One gets used to the characteristic sound very quickly and accepts that the outdoor performance compromises purity of sound for a greater sense of occasion or a new interpretation of the setting. I have no strong misgivings about the Aldeburgh recordings. The clarity of the diction is outstanding and the singing very good. There is one minor weakness, Giselle Allen’s (Orford’s) voice sounds thin and slightly muffled in act 2, on occasion even shrill. There was clearly a problem with wind at some points during the recorded performances, and this might explain the less than perfect rendering of her voice. A more pervasive shortcoming is that the orchestral sound lacks solidity in the bass and lacks clarity at the very high end. Since it was recorded in a studio, I see no obvious excuse for this.
There are a few simple factors in the interpretation of this opera that add to its capacity to engage. It should be easy enough to believe that a fisherman can make a living with just himself and an apprentice in a small boat powered by sails and oars. There must be a credible source of apprentices for Grimes, conventionally the workhouse, an institution abolished before 1930. The Aldeburgh beach performance starts with a World War II fighter aircraft flying past, and the urchins who momentarily interrupt the first scene are quite absurdly playing with a Reich war flag and a model German aircraft. While clearly paying tribute to the first production of the opera in 1945, they are mere indulgent distractions from the flow of the otherwise superb production. On the other hand, the overwhelming presence of nature in the Aldeburgh setting is a valid new interpretation of the traditionally crowded, even claustrophobic stage settings.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 January 2014
This is one of the clearest and most effective production of the opera I have ever seen. The diction is perfection, the acting splendid and even if the audio recording is not always perfect the drama more than compensates! How wonderful to see a production which is not absurdly concept driven and delivers this masterly work with such brilliance and emotional force. Oke and the cast are all on fine form and the setting is exquisite. Even if the cgi cloud masses were a little over the top at times, the general impression was of a superbly conceived and delivered theatrical triumph! Congratulations to all concerned. The blu ray transfer is visually excellent and the occasional sound "problems" were clearly inherent in the source material and in the circumstances entirely forgivable! One can only wish one was present at this landmark performance - but the blu ray certainly has it's compensations for those of us unfortunate enough to have missed it!
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on 17 December 2013
Having applauded Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears at the 1961 revival of Peter Grimes at the old Sadlers Wells, I was at least as strongly moved by this historic undertaking in June 2013 if not more so. The beach and ocean at Aldeburgh, which Britten's home for many years overlooked and where fishermen's huts still dominate the shore, provided the inspiration for much if not most of the music in the first and possibly greatest post-war opera. I have often strolled along the beach at Aldeburgh with Britten's Grimes interludes playing in my head and punctuated with the roar of the waves where they originated. In June 2013 I sat with my love and 1800 others on temporary stands on the beach for the realisation of what previously could only be imagined. Grimes had never had a staged performance in Aldeburgh or in Britten's Maltings concert hall in neighbouring Snape. There was no hall large enough for it. Now it was on the beach, the very beach. At the dress rehearsal the previous night, the ordinary townspeople attended. Many of them had never heard an opera, let alone this opera. All we spoke to in the next week were transformed personally and in their view of opera and Britten himself by this unprecedented experience. There followed three sold-out performances, of which we saw the first. No DVD can possibly completely record this massive experience, but this recording has come as close as possible and will be treasured by all who were there. It is a permanent tribute to Jonathan Reekie's years in charge of music at Aldeburgh and to all he enlisted to realise this amazing achievement. Set in 1945, this production grips from the overflight of a Spitfire at the beginning to the tragedy set at the end as the darkness envelopes the scene and the mist rolls in from the sea against the roar of the eternal waves as Grimes and Balstrode push Grimes's boat out to sea for the last time. Having seen the filmed version, upon which the DVD is based, I am aware that the loss of the scent of the sea and the brisk breeze removes some of the immediacy that being there provided; but no one who has ever seen or dreamed of this opera should miss this historic event which can now be endlessly repeated for posterity. The means by which Steuart Bedford and his forces recreated this miracle, I leave you to discover in the notes which should accompany this recording.
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on 9 December 2013
I have to admit, I am a Britten fan and that I find that rarely I am let down when interacting across all of his works. That said, rarely am I REALLY engaged with his works as I am so used to them. However, I was privileged enough to sit on the beach for the actual performance of this version of Grimes. The collective beach experience, staging, dramaturgy, REALLY WELL DIRECTED PERFORMERS and use of Aldeburgh beach as a backdrop was just beyond belief. Simply, because one gets to really understand where Britten's inspiration came from and then it goes even further in a way I can't describe. It elevates the work into a different realm.
This DVD tis not the wedding video version. The film version goes even closer to the heart of this work with wonderful close-ups, the interludes are instantly recognisable by the meditations on the place itself. The performers are even better when seen this close and it is indeed a different version of the same thing. It feels very recognisable but unique at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this.
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on 6 January 2014
An outstanding production of one of the greatest operas of the last century, a timeless tragedy played out in front of the best backdrop any opera production ever had - the Suffolk skyline - and filmed simply and truthfully, letting the drama speak for itself through performances of total commitment. The film reveals enough subtleties to satisfy viewers and listeners who are familiar with "Peter Grimes": and the truthfulness and clarity of the acting and singing, often shown in intense closeup, also makes this film uniquely involving, an ideal introduction to opera for anyone who's never thought of going to one before.
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on 3 February 2014
Despite some minor issues with the sound probably caused by the mics and the location, I felt this was an extraordinary production. I have never seen anything quite like it and predict it will come to be seen as one of the most innovative and brilliant Blu-ray opera recordings of the decade. It grabbed this opera and the audience by the throat and never let go. The settings were almost timeless and perfectly suited to the time and nature of the story. One never sees the orchestra and the production hovers between a stage performance and a film and I never felt uncomfortable about that at all. yes, there is a little CGI with the weather but that caused me no bother either.

I compared this with the weird, but very well sung Italian version from La Scala, and although that has some touching and beautiful moments its modern and off-beat production sat very poorly by comparison with this. It may not suit some but I feel confident Britten would have been flabbergasted by the innovation and would have loved it. The picture is generally dark but the camera work is exceptional and everything was crystal clear. Only the sound seemed to lose a bit of focus and the mics were rather unsightly, but that is an acceptable price to pay for something so special. I put this right up there with the Spanish Ring as one of the most innovative and successful opera recordings ever put on Blu-ray.
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on 30 October 2015
This film is very interesting but not the best way to enjoy Britten's music. Interpreters are fine but the environment of the performance was not adequate for music. They did the best possible but it is very poor compared to videos made in theaters. The singer's use obtrusive microphones taped to their faces and, in spite of their competence and effort, can't sound as they would on a proper theater. Opera is not intended for the beach. Nevertheless, this is an interesting video for somebody who is already familiar with the opera. Images of the beach, sea, waves and clouds illustrate Britte's music.
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on 1 January 2014
This is an opera I know very well and I've seen a good many productions, both at Aldeburgh and London. I wasn't able to go to the performance on the beach but bought the DVD when it became available and I was amazed at the way in which it was staged (or shingled!) and managed generally. Every word was audible (not always the case) and there was no sense in which one missed a conventional stage or proscenium arch. The camera-work was so skilfully done that one was able to see marvellous close-ups, such as the faces of Grimes, Ellen Orford, and so on, registering emotions, which of course one could not possibly see at long-range in a conventional production.
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on 27 May 2014
This was my consolation prize for being unable to get tickets for the real thing. The voices are excellent and Alan Oke makes a moving and powerful Grimes. Obviously it lacks the atmosphere of sitting, wrapped in a blanket, on an uncomfortable garden chair and getting chilly but it really is the next best thing. A few friends who were lucky enough to be there on the beach say that this DVD really does convey the atmosphere of the original production without the distractions which were inevitable with such a brave undertaking.
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on 13 December 2013
A wonderful opera, captured on it true ground. The performance here is first rate but to move it from the concert hall to the beach is a massive undertaking. The film shows some of the preparation. A truly great experience for the Britten centenary.
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