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Performance Review: The curious straits of Benjamin Britten

Ben Hamilton
May 22nd, 2023


When they’re mobbed up, it’s quite the show (photo: Camilla Winther)

Everything about this production of Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes is very Turneresque – if that’s a legitimate art term.

A clever little screen pulled down at the front of the stage renders cinematic maritime vistas that linger long in the memory.

Credit must go to Tazeena Firth (set) and Kimmo Ruskela (lighting) for evoking the 1820s vibes of an eastern coast fishing village, the setting of this curious little opera.

Thankful for the Danish translation
Curious, not in a paltry way as this is more or less Britain’s most revered opera, but simply because it is British – a language better suited to anarcho-punk than arias, let’s face it.

And that might be the rub: for all the insistence that opera transcends language, it’s a different matter when it’s your own, and the Anglophiles among our readers will surely want to be able to follow the action without depending on the Danish supertitles!

Very few of the performers can be understood. Morten Staugaard as Swallow and Hannah Fischer as Auntie are notable exceptions, but maybe this critique is misplaced, as whispered undertones are so much easier to understand than the shrill sopranos. 

Thrilling mob-rule moments
Hard to know how many end up screaming the accusatory chorus of “Peter Grimes” at the end of the third and final act, but suffice it to say, there’s enough to re-enact the Charge of the Light Brigade.

For the audience, it’s thrilling to see so many performers on stage together – and particularly when they’re a mob this angry.

So while I won’t be rushing out to buy tickets to see another English-language opera, this comes recommended for its curiosities.


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