PETER GRIME, A TRAGIC OPERA EXPLORING HOMOPHOBIA.
This opera was composed by Benjamin Britten and was first performed at Sadler's Wells, London, in 1945 as the Second World War ended. The libretto was adapted by Montagu Slater from a poem in George Crabbe's book, The Borough. The opera is set in a fictional village called The Borough, which bears some resemblances to Aldeburgh on the East Coast of England where Britten lived. The opera remains popular both in the UK and abroad and tells the tragic story of the fisherman, Peter Grimes. As Britten and Slater worked on the opera the story of the fisherman developed into a more complex tale than in the original book. Whilst still being labelled a villain by those around him, the audience are asked to believe that he is also a victim of his society. The work has been referred to, also, as an attack on homophobia.
Peter Grimes' apprentice has died and he is being questioned at the inquest. The townsfolk have already decided that he is guilty and push for his punishment. The coroner clears him of blame, however, he advises Grimes not to take on another apprentice. Grimes feels that this is his community's unwillingness to give him a second chance and he is comforted by the schoolmistress Ellen Orford, who he wishes to marry.
The townsfolk, represented by the chorus, sing about their weary daily round of toil in the town and at sea. Grimes is unable to work successfully alone and another apprentice is found for him by his friend, apothecary Ned Keene. John, the new apprentice, lives in the workhouse and Ellen offers to go and fetch him. John is brought to the pub that evening but Grimes is unsettled by his presence and sets off alone to his hut, braving a terrible storm.
On Sunday morning Ellen, whilst talking to John, is horrified to find a bruise on his neck. Grimes, when confronted, claims it happened by accident. Ellen persists and Grimes hits out at her and runs off with the apprentice. Several people see this and a mob sets off for his hut. Grimes sadly laments the loss of his first apprentice but when he hears the mob approaching he gets ready to set off for sea. Whilst climbing down the cliff to the fishing boat John falls, despite Grimes warning him to be careful, and he is killed. The mob disperse when they find the hut is empty.
During a dance, the village busybody, Mrs. Sedley, tries to convince people that Grimes is a murderer. After many days at sea he returns alone. Meanwhile a retired skipper, Captain Balstrode, has discovered a jumper on the beach which Ellen recognises as one she has made for John. Aroused by Mrs.Sedley the mob once more set off in search of Grimes. Grimes, dangerously unstable for some time, has been pushed over the edge by the death of John and he doesn't take much persuading by Balstrude to take his boat out to sea and scupper it. He is never seen again. The opera ends the following day as villagers carry on as if nothing has happened.
Peter Grimes: a fisherman, tenor.
Ellen Orford: widow and schoolmistress, soprano.
Balstrode: retired merchant skipper, baritone.
Mrs Sedley: a widow and busybody, mezzo-soprano.
Ned Keene: apothecary, baritone.
John: Grimes' apprentice, silent role.
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