Festival Music

Peter Grimes

Usher Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

WITH props and pratfalls, and an element of costuming for everyone on stage, the line between staged production and concert performance of opera was further blurred with this terrific evening of what is arguable Britten's greatest opera. Conductor Edward Gardner took full advantage of its specific nature, enhanced by the "stage concept" of Vera Rostin Wexelsen, to segue at pace into and from the Sea Interludes, and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra gave us possibly the finest Storm I have ever heard. The string playing was superb throughout, and the brass world class as well.

The special ingredient in the music here was the huge forces in the choir stalls, all singing from memory, and in casual clothes of muted sea-tones. The Bergen Philharmonic Choir were joined by Collegium Musicum and the Edvard Grieg Kor from the Norwegian City and twelve very fine young soloists from the Royal Northern College of Music. That gave the gossip of the villagers real heft in a performance that had a wealth of characterisation and narrative clarity, with a fractious community and a rowdy pub made very real before us.

The principals were all superb, with Canadian Erin Wall outstanding in her first Ellen Orford opposite Stuart Skelton's powerful and expressive Grimes. James Gilchrist was perfectly cast as the rector, Christopher Purves a fine Balstrode, and Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Susan Bickley faced-off wonderfully as the laudanum-addicted Mrs Sedley and the landlady of The Boar. And a pair of young Scandinavian women (Hanna Husahr and Vibeke Kristensen) as her "nieces" was clearly what every previous Grimes I have seen has lacked.