Pe-ter Grimes! Pe-ter Grimes!

I’ve been studying Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes” opera again, this time with the treat of having the vocal score. This work is what really catapulted my interest in opera, ever since the memorable occasion of seeing a “Met Live In HD” broadcast of it in a movie theatre some years ago, arriving somewhat late because my car was just stolen.

I’m convinced that Britten achieved a state of ability where he could instantly and effortlessly translate any character, image, or emotion directly into musical material. He flings out his flood of ideas so extravagantly, and they all capture every nuance he wants to depict, from the tittering of Auntie’s nieces, to the metaphysical comparisons between sea and society. He’s really got technique to burn, and “Peter Grimes” is packed with so much detail that I’ll never “get” it all, and that’s a good thing. A smart thing he does, which seems obvious but I’d probably tend to do otherwise without thinking, is rarely try to use the same motives in both instruments and voice. Instead he creates thematic material that is more idiomatic to each role, to better nail the intended expression. And still for all this onslaught of ideas, he is still a poster child of “economy of material,” because his ideas are just that concentrated, layered up on each other and flooding over you, and yet still steeping you in their effects even if you blink and miss something. It’s hard for me to take off my musician hat and imagine the layman’s experience, but even just the the philosophical complexity of the themes and stir me quite emotionally.

Christiaan and I greatly look forward to adding the brilliant,7-4 time, “Old Joe has Gone Fishing” canon, from the end of Act I, “Let’s warn the bears we’re coming!” hiking song repertoire, a very worthy replacement of “Don’t Throw Your Trash in My Backyard.”

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