First Night. 8 performances through April 24th.
Peter Grimes: Ben Heppner Ellen Orford: Susan Chilcott
Cpt Balstrode: Alan Opie Auntie: Stephanie Blythe
First Niece: Marie Devellereau Second Niece: Leille Berman
Bob Boles: Ian Caley Swallow: Stephen Richardson
Ms. Sedley: Della Jones Rev. Horace Adams: Neil Jenkins
Ned Keene: Jason Howard Hobson: Lynton Black
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera National de Paris
Conductor: James Conlon
Stage Designer: Graham Vick Decors and costumes: Paul Brown
It was a wonderful evening of opera, unless, of course, you opened your
eyes to see what was going on onstage.
Ben Heppner joins the front rank of interpreters of this role, along with
Peter Pears and Jon Vickers. It was a virtuoso performance, going from
strength to strength. I found his portrayal fill of insight and detail about
this, one of the great tenor roles of 20th Century opera. I was not expecting
either the raw passion and great tenderness he brought to this character. He
seemed in great shape vocally and acted convincingly. In this, his debut on
stage at the Opera de Paris, he was resoundingly and deservingly cheered.
Susan Chilcott was also a marvel. She was an ideal Ellen, with a voice
that could sing with clarity and extraordinary tenderness and still was
able to rise to Wagnerian intensity during those moments of high drama
in this opera. It was also a pleasure to have Stephanie Blythe in the role of
Auntie. Also possessing a big, resounding mezzo capable of communicating
the passions of her character, she was a fine actress and dominated the
stage - as her character should - during her moments. The veteran Alan
Opie was a sturdy, convincing retired sea captain, Balstrode and all other
character roles were without weakness and contributed to a remarkable
evening of opera.
James Conlon conducted with force and vigor and kept the level of
intensity and passion at high levels. I have always though of this opera as
more intimate and reflective but was carried along with his vision of this
as high drama on a grand scale.
A huge chorus of boos interrupted the cheering at the end of the opera
when Stephanie Blythe (they drew straws and she lost?) went to the
curtain to bring out Graham Vick and company. His concept: move the
story to the present time and represent the fishing village and its people
as trailer-trash. Grimes lives in a trailer by the sea, the townspeople are
loading a truck at a frozen fish factory in the first act, the inn has glass
walls and a pin-ball machine and a VW Golf and - I think - a Honda Civic
have prominent places in the stage pictures. Vick assumes, I guess,
that his audience must be mentally retarded (why else would they boo!)
so, to make his message ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that there is hypocrisy
operating here, he has the townspeople in the inn (here a disco inside
a shipping container) engage in a positive orgy prior to setting out for the
final search. I wasn't in a good sight line but there probably was an
incidence of gay bashing, among many other lurid details, during Vick's
Walpurgisnacht. Maybe it was intended, but the stage pictures were
exceptionally ugly (even by contemporary standards), perhaps the most
unappealing visual images I ever remember in my history of opera-going.
(It makes the school-house Barcelona Lohingrin of Konwinsky - one of
my least favorite productions - look like a Vermeer.) The good news:
although the singers were all wearing thrift store clothes, when they
weren't in their slickers, at least none of the principals were dangling
precariously or otherwise inopportuned.
The Opera de Paris has been successful this season it its display of
vocal talent and musical values. But it is seldom that the vocal pleasure
is complimented with effective stage action and pictures.
"For the sake of Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and ME, get on that stage!"
(Charlie Chan at the Opera)