Peter Grimes

Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by
ABR Arts 30 July 2019

Peter Grimes

Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by
ABR Arts 30 July 2019

Difficult it is to imagine the full impact Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes had on the opening-night audience at Sadler’s Wells Theatre on 7 June 1945, just a few weeks after the conclusion of World War II. Little wonder that the audience, possibly expecting something cheerier from the prodigal wunderkind, sat there in silence for minutes after that subtlest of endings. Joan Cross, director of the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company and creator of the role of Ellen Orford, said later: ‘There was silence at the end and then shouting broke out. The stage crew were stunned: they thought it was a demonstration. Well, it was but fortunately it was of the right kind.’

Hanker though some may for art that is playful or apolitical, it is impossible to think of that war and this opera in isolation. Edmund Wilson, attending one of the first performances, observed: ‘This opera could have been written in no other age, and it is one of the very few works of art that have seemed to me, so far, to have spoken for the blind anguish, the hateful rancour and the will to destruction of those horrible years.’

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