Two boy apprentices die while in the care of the fisherman Peter Grimes. The community create a mob against him. Grimes loses his mind and takes his boat out to sea and sinks it.
A boy apprentice working for the fisherman Peter Grimes has died at sea. The community are sceptical of his innocence. Grimes wants to restore his reputation and marry the local school teacher Ellen Orford.
Grimes is tormented by the memories of his apprentice dying, and on the verge of losing his mind. His new apprentice slips and falls down the cliffs, also dying while in the care of Grimes. He takes his boat out to sea and sinks it.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in English
About 2 hours 25 min + intervals
A coastal village in Suffolk, mid 19th century
An inquest is being held over the death of Peter Grimes’ apprentice. He died at sea and the townsfolk believe Peter Grimes to be guilty. Mr Swallow, the coronor, states that the apprentice died ”in accidental circumstances”. However, he advises Peter Grimes not to get another boy apprentice. Grimes protests and wishes to have a full trial to clear his name. When the court has cleared the local school teacher Ellen Orford stays and assures him that everything will be fine with her help.
The fishermen and women sing about their daily lives. Grimes needs help to bring his boat back in. Nobody is willing to help him except for Ned Keene and Balstrode. Keene lets Grimes know that he has found him a new apprentice at the workhouse; a boy named John. The carter, Hobson, first refuses to help to fetch the boy but agrees when Ellen assures him that she will look after the boy on the journey.
As a storm is closing in, Balstrode tells Peter that he’s weary of the idea of a new apprentice. However, Grimes is determined to earn money, marry Ellen and restore his reputation.
The pub, ”The Boar”
People take shelter in the pub. Bob Boles is drunk and makes a move at one of the nieces. Peter Grimes storms in, with the force of the storm itself. Bob and Peter get into an argument and the tension rises.
Balstrode tries to calm the situation by asking someone to start a song. Ned Keene begins to sing ”Old Joe has gone fishing”. Everyone joins in. Ellen arrives with the new apprentice and Peter Grimes immediately takes the boy to his hut, even though the storm is in full swing.
It’s Sunday morning and the village people are at church while Ellen and the apprentice John talk. She notices a bruise on his neck and brings this up with Grimes, who brushes it off as an accident. He becomes increasingly angry and hits her before he leaves with the boy.
His actions have been witnessed and the men decide to follow him to his hut in a mob like manner. Ellen, auntie and the two nieces are left to sing about the hardship of loving men.
In his hut, Grimes tells the apprentice John to get changed because they’re heading out to sea. Memories of the death of his earlier apprentice torment his mind. In the distance, Grimes can hear the villagers coming closer, which in turn makes him believe that the boy has been gossiping with Ellen about him.
Grimes rushes the boy to climb down the cliff to the boat. John slips and falls down towards his death. There is a knock on the door but when the villagers enter, Grimes is gone.
There is a dance at the Moot Hall. Outside, the nieces try to avoid Mr Swallows’ advances. Ned Keene has to listen to Mrs Sedley who firmly believes that she’s got proof that Grimes is a murderer. Ellen and Balstrode appear, and Mrs Sedley overhears them talking about the disappearance of Grimes.
Ellen has also found a jumper that she knitted for John washed up at the beach. Ellen and Balstrode leave. Mrs Sedley stirs up emotions in the community, and as a mob they curse Grimes, demanding that he will pay for his crimes.
Grimes is alone battling insanity. Ellen and Balstrode appear. Balstrode helps Grimes to take his boat out to sea with the intention of never coming back. The next morning “The Borough” go about their day. There is news of a boat that has sunk during the night.
Peter Grimes - Tenor
Ellen Orford - Soprano
A widow, Schoolmistress of the Borough
Captain Balstrode - Baritone
Retired merchant skipper
Auntie - Contralto
Landlady of ”The Boar”
Niece 1 - Soprano
Main attraction of ”The Boar”
Niece 2 – Soprano
Main attraction of ”The Boar”
Bob Boles - Tenor
Fisherman and Methodist
Swallow - Bass
Mrs. (Nabob) Sedley - Mezzo-soprano
A rentier widow of an East India Company’s factor
Rev. Horace Adams - Tenor
Ned Keene - Baritone
Apothecary and quack
Hobson - Bass
Place of birth: Lowestoft, England
Place of death: Aldeburgh, England
Benjamin Britten was an English composer, conductor and pianist. He is the most played composer of opera born in the 20th century. His operas are at the forefront of his musical deed, but he also wrote a substantial amount of choral, vocal and orchestral works as well as chamber music.
Britten was born on the east coast of England in Lowestoft, Suffolk. At three months old he nearly died of pneumonia. Subsequently his heart was injured and the doctors were uncertain if he would be able to lead a normal life. He recovered better than expected. In his mid 20s he spent a few years in America with his life partner, the tenor and artistic collaborator Peter Pears. In 1942 they returned to England and the Suffolk coast and settled down in Aldeburgh. The town became Britten’s home until his death. It is also the home of the now renowned music festival, Aldeburgh Festival, that Britten founded in 1948.
Britten’s first opera Peter Grimes was written in 1945 and with its premiere came international success. During the next 30 years he wrote many of the masterpieces that are widely performed today across the world.
“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony. ”
Britten hated to be criticized, loved poetry and he was a good friend of Dmitri Shostakovich.
Most prominent operas
Montagu Slater was an English poet, playwright, left wing journalist and librettist.
The libretto is based on George Crabbe’s (1754-1832) narrative poem ”Peter Grimes” from the book ”The Borough”. The Borough represents a fictional village with many similarities to the English east coast village Aldeburgh, Crabbe’s home town as well as the home of Britten.
2d2, 2d1, 2d1, 2+1 - 4, 3, 3, 1
timp, perc, celesta, harp, strings
Off-stage: organ, bells, tuba
Britten left England for America in 1939 at the start of World War II. In 1941 Britten read an article about the 18th century Suffolk poet Crabbe. His partner Peter Pears gave him a copy of the poet’s works including the poem “The Borough”. Britten, who grew up in Suffolk, was struck with homesickness. Britten later said: in a flash I realised two things: that I must write an opera, and where I belonged.
In 1942 Britten and Pears moved home from California to Aldeburgh. Peter Grimes had its premiere at Sadler’s Wells in London in 1945. It is today one of Britten’s most performed operas.
Aria - Now the Great Bear and Pleiades (Peter Grimes)
Ensemble – Old Joe Has Gone Fishing
Quartet - From the gutter (Niece 1, Niece 2, Ellen, Auntie)
Aria – Embroidery aria (Ellen)
Aria – Mad scene (Peter Grimes)