PETER GRIMES by Benjamin Britten and Montagu Slater, directed by Tim Albery, with Robert Brubaker, Frédérique Vézina, Alan Opie, John Kriter, Anna Steiger and Susan Gorton. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird (1 Front East). Runs October 4, 7 and 10 at 7:30 pm. $35-$145, limited $20-$25 (ages 18 to 29). 416-872-2262. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Benjamin Britten's 1945 opera Peter Grimes is like the bastard offspring of Leos Janácek's Jenufa and Berg's Wozzeck. But from its small fishing-village setting to its orchestral palette to its ambiguity about possible homosexuality and sadism, it's all veddy, veddy British. Director Tim Albery - on board to helm the Canadian Opera Company 's Ring closer Götterdämmerung in 2006 - presents a striking, brutally powerful production that's as hypnotic and relentless as the sea itself.
At three hours, Grimes is a relatively long opera, and watching it - especially the draggy prologue and first two scenes - you can spot places to cut. Do we really need to learn about pub etiquette? The libretto's based on a poem, and some precious language hasn't aged well.
But the morally ambiguous plot about Grimes's need for a boy apprentice even though the last boy was murdered has a natural propulsion. Britten's rich score, effectively conducted here by Richard Bradshaw , pushes the narrative forward, and there are some lovely set pieces, including a moving quartet for four women. The choral work is riveting.
Robert Brubaker 's solid presence and powerful tenor command attention as Grimes, while Frédérique Vézina provides support (if not the best English diction) as his ambiguous woman friend, Ellen Orford. Good performances, too, by John Kriter , Susan Gorton and Anna Steiger as a variety of townsfolk.
Hildegard Bechtler 's spare set takes some time to warm to, but gradually its wooden stakes and cold stone elements suggest a seascape on land and also a crucifix metaphor to convey the sacrificial element at the heart of this powerful, yet oddly intimate, piece of music theatre.