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Subject: Washington's PETER GRIMES is positively GREAT (one show left April 4)
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Date:Thu, 2 Apr 2009 14:59:27 +0000

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We attended the penultimate performance of the Washington National Opera's excellent new production of Peter Grimes last night (from the Santa Fe Opera) and it has everything going for it. It is sheer perfection, grasping every aspect of this work from the visual to the vocal to the mental to the music. 

Peter Grimes 	Christopher Ventris 
Ellen Orford 	Patricia Racette 
Captain Balstrode 	Alan Held 
Auntie 	Ann McMahon Quintero 
Swallow 	Daniel Okulitch 
1st Niece 	Micaëla Oeste 
2nd Niece 	Emily Albrink 
Bob Boles 	David Cangelosi 
Mrs. Sedley 	Myrna Paris 
Rev. Horace Adams 	Robert Baker 
Ned Keene 	Keith Phares 
Hobson 	John Marcus Bindel 
Conductor 	Ilan Volkov 
Director 	Paul Curran 
Set and Costume Design 	Robert Innes Hopkins 

Before the opening strains the chorus and some of the principals gather on stage in dark period clothing giving a most austere feel. Grimes is standing there as well,clearly alone. There are two large building structures on each side which are barn-like with horizontal planking. These form a tapering "V" towards the rear which has a lone boat. A simple dark gray sky backdrop replaces the open stage to the sky that was at Santa Fe. The buildings are gray as well except for the bottom half which have a tannish-gray tint, quite lighter than the rest. These four sections are lit to perfection to create the INSIDE scenes and when we move outside the lighting expands to create a roomier effect. The buildings have plank doors and windows scattered across their faces. The buildings slide towards the center to create a "V" room for the opening scene. 
Washington is lucky to have baritone Daniel Okulitch as Swallow. In Ft. Worth he was the inspector in the world premiere of Frau Margot and here is the lawyer. It will be exciting to hear him as the lead in Dead Man Walking next Month also in Ft. Worth. I hope he returns here again (NYC Opera just announced he sings Don Giovanni there in November). Ellen is the only person with any color in her clothes at the start, and it is a dark brown dress and hat. At first impression I got the feel that Mr.Ventris was a fragile Grimes, but as he progressed he became more forceful; obviously a person with a mindset. I also liked the fact that there were several children as supers giving the Borough a real town feel. 

There has been much negative reporting of Maestro VOlkov's debut, and all I can say was that I liked the orchestra immensely. We sit on the right side of the house about 8 rows back and the interludes sounded gorgeous. I especially liked the ominous sounds coming from the nearby percussion. 

The town scene had fishmonger's carts and the fisherman in "Macs," that rubber-like rain gear they wear. Here we were treated to the excellent singing of ALAN HELD and the chorus as well in "The storm comes." which had a tremendous impact dramatically and musically. Director Paul CURRAN gets my winning vote for finally understanding HOW TO MOVE THE CHORUS around to maximum effect (take a lesson Ms. Zimmerman), and in this opera it is of the utmost importance. Messrs. Held and Ventris gave us a superb "What harbour shelters peace," while the latter seemed to transfer into his stubborn self. 

Color in the costumes began to invade with the nieces in silk nighties and robes in the bar scene. There was a lot of sexual innuendo pervading the scenes with them, Swallow, Keene and even Hobson. The roles were perfectly handled by two members of the Young Artist Program. The building walls split aside and Grimes stands at the rear in spotlight entering through the gap, rather than the door; lightning flashes for maximum effect during the storm. He sang "Now the Great Bear.." in an almost daze as if he were somewhere else. I liked Mr. Ventris' Florestan here several years ago, I loved his Lohengrin in Dallas, and I am enthralled by his Grimes. It is a character that we can interpret in our own way even though he has a set "take" on the role. When the boy is brought in he hides under the table, and while seven supers are listed in the program, I can not name the excellent boy actor for you! 

Act II has an upper opening in the rear left with a large sunlit cross therein. Boles is at the next building with his head sticking out one of the shutters. Rev. Adams opens the lower doors of the church and as the townsfolk enter to pray, Boles attempts to lure them to his "method" next door. PATRCIA RACETTE sings "Glitter of waves and glitter of sunlight," now in a red dress and from here on in (as far as I am concerned) owns this role. It is perfectly tailored for her and while I enjoyed her at the Met last year, it is our smaller opera house that really shows her off. Indeed, I must say, it usually shows off everyone to advantage. 

The scene for Peter's hut is an upturned boat hull cross-section with two small beds, table and little else. A small window/hole in the hull allows for the boy and Peter to crawl out and "head down" the cliff behind. It was indeed the first time I can recall the boy screaming intensely as he fell to his death, which really adds to the drama. Anybody recall this in other productions? 

Act III's opening interlude had a pulsing crescendo that overwhelmed me and brought me right back into the drama from the intermission. The nieces were now in yellow skimpy dressing and flirting to excess. Mr. Curran has Sedley (a wonderful portrayal by Myrna Paris) come in to ask Keith Phares' Keene is he" can spare a moment" as he is on his knees feeling up one of the nieces. A laugh here and there is totally acceptable and worked perfectly. Another giggle erupted when some men came running out of the pub to take a pee at the rear. 

Again, Ms. Racette gave us an eloquent "Embroidery in childhood" in which virtually every word came across to us. Indeed, the diction from everyone all night was simply perfect. When Grimes finally enters the townsfolk have torches at the rear. He comes forward and screams as they move backward and the four building all fall, well tilt, inward towards him; his world IS falling down. The Borough folk clear off and Grimes sings "Steady there you are" in total darkness with a faint pinpoint light which grows as it reflects off the walls. Here, Mr. Ventris' characterization is one of almost being driven to madness. He stands there, then heads out to sea, as the folk re-enter and walks into a path of light as the buildings upright themselves and the chorus and principals sway to and fro, save Ellen at front right and Balstrode opposite at front left. 

I must again not only rave about the direction, but every single cast member that imbued each role in such a way that makes me fall in love with the opera (all over again) and especially this production and cast! 

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC 

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