Peter Grimes at the C.O.C.

I attended the October 11th performance of Peter Grimes by the Canadian Opera Company (C.O.C.)  The production is directed by Neil Armfield starring Ben Heppner (Peter Grimes), Ileana Montalbetti (Ellen Orford), Alan Held (Captain Balstrode), Jill Grove (Auntie), and Thomas Hauff (Dr. Crabbe.)  C.O.C. Music Director Johannes Debus conducted the C.O.C. orchestra.

The entire production takes place inside a community centre with a stage in the background, with the exception of the scene in Grimes’ hut (the back of the set, containing the stage, moves up in order to become the hut.)  This certainly works considering that the community has such a strong impact over the events in the opera.

Ben Heppner’s performance was the highlight of the performance, and the reason for me attending the opera to begin with.  His acting ability pulls you in throughout the opera.  During the second act, for example, I found myself feeling sorry for Grimes right up until he hits Ellen.  Mr. Heppner’s performance makes you realize that Grimes’ suffering more understandable – the character’s torment is partly due to the failures in his life, but also because he failed to enter into the ‘mainstream society’ provided by the Borough.

The other principles provided a great performance throughout the evening.  Mrs. Sedley (Judith Christin) brought some lighter moments during the evening, almost making one want her on stage more.  Both Ms. Montalbetti (Ellen) and Mr. Held (Balstrode) both portrayed their roles excellently, demonstrating how they are the only ones in the Borough to actually care about Grimes.

The chorus, led by concert by Chorus Master Sandra Horst, was outstanding.  Their cries of “Peter Grimes” during the third act are were breathtaking and moving.  Their cries also made it more apparent just how much of Grimes’ issues were related to the Borough’s outright hatred towards him.

The orchestra, led by Musical Director Johannes Debus, was very good, especially during the musical interludes.  I have never been a great fan of Britten’s operas, but the C.O.C. Orchestra did a fine job of making the music sound a lot better than I remember.

The only question for me in this production was having Dr. Crabbe sitting off to the side of the stage during the performance.  When the opera starts, Dr. Crabbe comes out with Grimes, walks to the side, and bows to the conductor who then starts conducting the opera.  At times Dr. Crabbe would open/close the curtains for the community centre’s stage (located at the back of the stage) or move chairs around on the stage.  All this really seems to be senseless in my opinion – why does he need to stay on stage to watch what is happening?

Peter Grimes runs through October 26th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

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