"Peter Grimes . . . is, for me, the essence of what an opera can be, and, in some senses, the high-water mark against which I have evaluated every other piece of contemporary opera." — Nico Muhly
Somehow, in between performances of Two Boys at the Met, David Robertson managed to prepare his own St. Louis Symphony and Chorus to perform Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes. They did it first in St. Louis last Saturday, and then again last night in Carnegie Hall, on the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth. Even if last night's performance had been merely adequate, the mere gesture of presenting this three-hour-plus masterpiece, which Britten wrote when he was only 31, on the Britten centenary would have been praiseworthy.
But, what Robertson and his players brought to Carnegie last night was nothing short of extraordinary. Robertson took the score at lightning pace, driving the orchestra hard during the storm passages but drawing out the lush, evocative interludes so you could almost taste the sea air. The chorus, which plays such a central role in this opera, sang with searing intensity. There were also clever bits of stagecraft, such as placing the chorus and an electronic organ at the back of the hall during the church scene in the beginning of Act II, or having Grimes amble down the "cliff path" by way of the stage right stairs at the end of Act II.