Peter Grimes on the beach

The set of Peter Grimes before darkness fell.

photos by Bruce Leslie

Great Britain's Aldeburgh Festival is paying hommage to the 100th birth anniversary of composer Benjamin Britten with a crazy idea: staging Britten's opera Peter Grimes on the actual beach where the story is set.  Imagine watching Copland's The Tender Land on a farm or Puccini's Turandot in the Forbidden City.

WXXI listener and supporter Bruce Leslie attended a performance on June 19th and send the following report and photos.

 

The mist began rolling in off the North Sea as the early arrivals strolled to pubs, restaurants, and fish ‘n chip shops.  Although high in the sky, the sun was smothered clouds hours before sunset as we near summer solstice.  Mother Nature was already setting the stage for ‘Peter Grimes by the Sea’.

 



The warmly dressed audience slowly gathered, carrying blankets, sleeping bags, cushions, and warming liquids.  While some sat on chairs in the highest priced seats, most spread their blankets on the pebble beach.  Finally, at 8:30 p.m. the cast started drifting onto the overturned and angled boats that composed the haunting set.  The coroner began questioning Grimes about the disappearance of his apprentice and gripping three hours followed Grimes’ near redemption and ultimate tragedy. 


For Act II, the mist thickened as if on cue and occasional gulls floated over the set.

 

Act III was truly the climax.  Now completely dark, only the lit stage was visible.  The crowd chasing Grimes spread across the wide stage in a panorama impossible in any indoor stage.  Although we had been sitting for over three hours, all were gripped as Peter Grimes left on his final voyage.

Sadly the heart-felt applause was dissipated in the open air, but the crowd was truly moved as it slowly and quietly departed, clearly not wanting to break the mood.