"Let me begin by saying that Benjamin Britten is one of my favorite composers. Add to that the fact that I had the extreme pleasure/privilege of actually hearing & seeing Jon Vickers live in this, arguably, his finest role. And, if that weren't enough, Sir Colin Davis is certainly known to be one of the finest conductors of Britten's music in our time. If you have never heard the opera, this is a perfect set to own: Vickers knows 'Peter' in and out, having performed the role so many times. It is not just a beautiful performance musically, Vickers also gets inside this tortured man and lets us see him in all his complexity. Also his command of English is perfect: a Canadian, he enunciates every word precisely while always keeping the drama in mind. This is true music-theatre at the highest level. The supporting cast is also excellent, led by Heather Harper as a touching "Ellen Orford" and Jonathan Summers as "Balstrode." If you do know the opera, you'll know that the chorus can be as important as "Peter" himself. The Covent Garden chorus is idiomatically perfect. The sound on this Philips recording is terrific. To make this a MUST OWN set, Philips has re-released it, so that you can buy the two CD's online for the price of one."
Maybe not what Britten imagined, but definitive in its own w
Paul Bubny | Maplewood, NJ United States | 10/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Benjamin Britten, as composer and conductor, clearly preferred the lighter-toned and more shaded Peter Grimes characterization of his muse and partner, Peter Pears, as can be heard in the classic late '50s recording on Decca/London. Light-toned Jon Vickers is not; nor is he especially English-sounding in the role of an outcast fisherman in 19th century coastal Britain. But for psychological (and physical) tension, Vickers' Grimes is in a class by itself. Among other things, Vickers conveys a sense of barely concealed menace that makes the villagers' ostracization of him understandable, if not defensible. A very strong argument can be made for preferring this harder-edged "Grimes" over the composer's own, and Vickers' portrayal is not the only reason. All of the elements in this performance--and particularly the incisive conducting of Sir Colin Davis---coalesce into a galvanizing whole. The more "theatrical" production of the Britten/Pears set, with sound effects such as one would hear in the opera house, may be missed here, as is a libretto. However, these omissions are easily overlooked as you're caught up in the net this "Grimes" casts over the waters."
Vickers IS Grimes
Baker Sefton Peeples | Santa Cruz, CA United States | 01/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Evidently, the composer of Peter Grimes, Benjamin Britten hated Jon Vickers's portrayal of Peter Grimes, written for Britten's lifetime partner, Peter Pears. He described as being "too mad." Perhaps Britten had not realized ahead of time what a strong character he created in Grimes. Jon vickers evidently had his own opinions about Britten, which, I must say, are not too PC, so they don't bear repeating.
Onto the performance...simply said, Vickers is the best Grimes ever. He has about 3 times as much voice as Pears and is also much more interesting, as well as a better singer. The fact of the matter is, Grimes is off his rocker, a potentially dangerous character whom everyone seems to hate. Vickers portrays him as a mad man, even one who hallucinates and is capable of dastardly deeds, like killing apprentices...one can see vickers doing this, through his vocal and acting capacities. Vickers was always a force of nature, to say the least, and his portrayal of this is one of the greatest portrayals of any role in operatic history. It's an experience (or nightmare) from which one cannot escape unmoved.
This opera revolves around the title character, for everything in this opera, taking place in a small town, seems to focus on Grimes himself. He's cornered, tormented, and it's no wonder that he seems to go mad. That being said, it is absolutely essential to have a Grimes capable of displaying such torment and madness...Vickers nails it like no other. Listen to his drunken "Now the great bear and Pleiades." time seems to stop.(What mezza voce at the beginning!) Not many artists can create that, and right after that, when he talks about "flashing turmoil" one can see a blinding light pass through. Its unforgettable. His monologue in the second act is enough to scare a whole audience, esp. at "I'll teach you not to lie to her!" The final scene of the third act with Vickers alone is the eptiome of insanity on stage. One is literally dumbfounded. Ellen Orford, sung by Heather Harper, a very warm and motherly Ellen, just as moving as Vickers. Jonathan Summers as captain balstrode is just as striking, and well sung as the others. Those three alone are much better than their colleagues in the composer's own recording. Listen to Summers spoken line right near the end, "Sink her! Good-bye Peter!" as if knowing that is the only solution to Grimes's situation and not afraid to tell him the bitter truth.
The other smaller roles are well taken, including Thomas Allen as Ned Keene. What really works here is tthe covent garden chorus, such as essential part of this opera. Their cries for Peter Grimes's death in the third act is chilling, esp. with the prolonged silences in between. Colin Davis, (before he was knighted) conducts superbly, much more intensely than Britten himself. this is probably the most flexible conducting i've heard from Davis.
Overall, the other roles are much secondary compared to Vickers's towering interpretation of the troubled Peter Grimes. There will never be another true Peter Grimes."
A robust and idiomatic performance of this key opera
Christopher J. Sharpe | Caracas, Venezuela | 11/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was the first opera recording I ever listened to and it got me hooked. I've since acquired the Pears / Britten interpretation on Decca, but (so far) have been unable to relinquish my loyalty to this Philips set. The two major pillars here are Jon Vickers as Peter Grimes and Colin Davis overseeing the whole work. Vickers makes Grimes much more powerful, agressive, threatening and tortured than Pears. Right from the first bars - in the court room scene - it's clear that Vickers is going to put his heart and soul into this role. Indeed, such is the depth of his portrayal that one cannot help a degree of sympathy for the "sadistic fisherman". In fact, it is Vickers' ability to generate a complex mix of feelings in the listener that gives Grimes a real human dimension. I confess to a personal feeling that Vicker's is the better of the two interpretations. His singing in key scenes such as "The truth... the pity..." and, particularly, "Now the Great Bear and Pleiades" simply makes more of the score than does Pears. Clearly, to judge by the Decca recording by the composer, Britten did not intend this though.
Heather Harper should also be mentioned as a beautiful, compassionate and thoroughly believable Ellen Orford. Her "Let her among you" and "Glitter of waves" are wonderful. The Chorus is superb too. And finally, the orchestra plays immaculately to provide stalwart backing to the singers as well as offering up excellent Sea Interludes.
The sound here is superb. There are one or two noticeable edits, but nothing too serious. This version comes without a libretto, but that's easy enough to find electronically. So, if you're after a Peter Grimes, then it's down to Britten or Davis and you can't go far wrong with either. Those who love the opera will want both since the interpretations are so different."
A great performance that rivals the composer's own
Klingsor Tristan | Suffolk | 08/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Britten was said to have hated Jon Vickers' performance as Grimes and one can see why. Nothing (and no tenor since) could be further from Peter Pears, for whom he had written the part. Let's face it, for all his usual beauty of tone and heady high notes, Pears sounds just too urbane, too sophisticated, too intellectual, too smooth for the rough, tough character as written in Crabbe and in the libretto.
Vickers, on the other hand, is a huge brute of a man (aurally even more than physically). We are left in no doubt that his treatment of apprentices can be rough and bullying, easily leading to the 'accidental circumstances' of their deaths. ("To lose one apprentice...etc.") And his descent into madness is truly terrifying. Which is not say that he misses out on the dreamer in Grimes, the side of the character that could be said to be Pears' strength. The scene in the clifftop hut sees Vickers lurch absolutely credibly from anger and violence and frustration to his all too human dreams of a better life with the schoolmistress, Ellen Orford, all within the space of just a few bars.
I grew up with Pears' Grimes and love it to this day. But Vickers' fisherman is a different beast - almost as viscerally exciting on disc as he was in the theatre. And, perhaps a mark of a great opera, the part will sustain both interpretations, whatever the composer thought. I wouldn't part with either.
The rest of the cast are no slouches either. Heather Harper was probably the best of all Ellens and the smaller parts are in the more than capable hands of the likes of Thomas Allen, Richard van Allen and the venerable (as he was by then) and much missed John Lanigan. Colin Davis's conducting is exemplary, perhaps with an ounce more energy and drive than on his more recent LSO performance, but perhaps with a gram less depth as well.
The opera is an unbelievable 60 years old now - about as far from us as Grimes was from late Wagner and Verdi! It deserves to have two classic performances such as this and the composer's own. And any collection deserves to have both on its shelves. "