Britten - Peter Grimes / Atherton, Langridge, English National Opera

9780769729022: Britten - Peter Grimes / Atherton, Langridge, English National Opera
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This story of an alienated fisherman who battles inner demons and the loss of his apprentices is a Britten psychological masterpiece. English National Opera.

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Benjamin Britten's dour masterpiece has been well-served in video recordings, and this stark, intense production may be the top choice for most viewers. One of its major attractions is outstanding camera work, under the direction of Barrie Gavin, reinforcing powerfully the shifting moods created by the music. The photography is notable in frequent closeups, 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 characterization.

The ambiguities in the role of Grimes make it possible to emphasize either strength or vulnerability in this story of an alienated fisherman in an English village, 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 neighbors 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

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