EmptyMetropolitan Opera, New York
Through March 24
Far more satisfying to hear than watch, the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Benjamin Britten's modern classic "Peter Grimes" demonstrates that director John Doyle's minimalist style is ill-suited for the massive Met stage. Making his debut at the august opera house, the British director, who has garnered acclaim on these shores for his bare-bones productions of such musicals as "Sweeney Todd" and "Company," delivers a static, monotonous staging that fails to do justice to this highly atmospheric work.
"Grimes," which premiered in 1945, depicts the travails of its titular character (Anthony Dean Griffey), a hotheaded fisherman who runs into conflict with the citizens of his remote 19th century seaside town when it becomes clear that he has an unfortunate habit of losing his young male apprentices. Despite the loving attentions of Ellen (Patricia Racette), a widowed schoolteacher who sees the humanity underneath his violent physical presence, Peter Grimes emerges as a tragically troubled figure who falls victim to the censorious tendencies of his community.
The chief miscalculation in Doyle's staging is the set, which essentially consists of a gray-brown wooden wall several stories high featuring scattered doors and windows in which the supporting characters periodically appear. Although the effect is visually arresting in the opening scene depicting the inquest into the death of Peter's apprentice -- the presiding judge and witnesses peer down as if judging from a heavenly perch -- it soon proves detrimental, resembling nothing so much as a drab version of the wall on the old television show "Laugh-In."
Fortunately, the innate power of the work and the glorious singing on display provide ample compensations. The massive Griffey has a beautiful tenor voice that well contrasts with Peter's blustery demeanor, allowing us to see the tragic vulnerability of the character, and Racette's gorgeous vocalizing makes Ellen's ultimate despair deeply moving. Also excellent are baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore as the initially sympathetic skipper and John Del Carlo as the town's mayor.
The evening's most powerful moments are the soaring choral passages, superbly delivered by the large ensemble that often is grouped at the edge of the stage to deliver their haunting condemnations.
Presented by the Metropolitan Opera
Music: Benjamin Britten
Libretto: Montagu Slater
Director: John Doyle
Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Set designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting designer: Peter Mumford
Peter Grimes: Anthony Dean Griffey
Ellen Orford: Patricia Racette
Bastrode: Anthony Michaels-Moore
Swallow: John Del Carlo
Mrs. Sedley: Felicity Palmer
Auntie: Jill Grove
Bob Boles: Greg Fedderly
Ned Keene: Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Boy: Logan William Erickson