On Air Now
Classic FM Drive with John Brunning 5pm - 7pm
The most significant British opera of the 20th century, Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes is a staple of the opera repertoire. Here are glimpses of some of the finest productions.
Benjamin Britten's partner Peter Pears played Peter Grimes at the opera's world premiere in London on 7 June 1945. It was four years earlier in the U.S.A. that Britten and Pears first read 'The Borough' by the poet George Crabbe. Britten strongly identified with the tragic story of the Suffolk fisherman and later said, ‘In a flash I realised two things: that I must write an opera, and where I belonged.’ Photo: © ENO/Angus McBean
Peter Grimes was first performed at Sadler's Wells, conducted by Reginald Goodall, and was the first of Britten's operas to be a critical and popular success. Peter Pears played Grimes and Joan Cross created the role of Ellen Orford. Photo: © ENO/Angus McBean
When Grimes opened, its box-office takings matched or exceeded those for La bohème and Madame Butterfly, which were being staged concurrently by Sadlers Wells. Photo: © ENO/Angus McBean
It is likely that Britten wrote the role of Ellen Orford for Joan Cross, the then manager of the Sadler's Wells company. When she announced her intention to re-open the theatre with Peter Grimes, with herself and Peter Pears in the leading roles, there were many complaints from company members about supposed favouritism and the "cacophony" of Britten's score. Photo: © ENO/Angus McBean
Britten described Peter Grimes as having ‘a subject very close to my heart — the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual.’ Photo: © ENO/Angus McBean
In 1963, Sadlers Wells staged a new production of Peter Grimes to mark Benjamin Britten's 50th birthday. The opera was conducted by Meredith Davies who was a sympathetic interpreter of Britten's operas. Photo: © ENO/Houston Rogers
The Australian tenor Ronald Dowd appeared as Peter Grimes in the 1963 Sadlers Wells production. Grimes was his greatest achievement. He was considered one of the finest exponents ever of the role, in Australia on stage and television and in London. Photo: © ENO/Houston Rogers
The Sadlers Wells production of Peter Grimes opened in Oxford, toured Germany to huge acclaim before opening in London in October 1963 to even greater praise. Photo: © ENO/Houston Rogers
Australian soprano Elizabeth Fretwell played Ellen Orford in the Sadlers Wells revival of Peter Grimes. She was a leading member of the company when they toured to Munich in 1963. Photo: © ENO/Houston Rogers
The tenor Philip Langridge played Peter Grimes in the 1991 English National Opera production. Many regarded Langridge as Peter Pears' true successor; they shared similar vocal qualities. He recorded many of Pears' famous roles, including Grimes and Quint in The Turn of the Screw. Photo © ENO/Clive Barda
One of our top dramatic sopranos Susan Bullock played Ellen Orford in the 1991 ENO production of Peter Grimes. She went on to repeat the role in Denmark. She subsequently established herself as Britain’s leading Wagnerian soprano. Photo © ENO/Clive Barda
In 1999, ENO gave the role of Peter Grimes to the leading tenor Robert Brubaker. He became the first American to sing the role in England. Photo: © ENO/Bill Rafferty
In 2009, the Australian tenor Stuart Skelton was nominated for an Olivier Award in Outstanding Achievement in Opera for his performances as Peter Grimes with the English National Opera. He returns to the role in 2014. The production is also launching the ENO Screen initiative with a live broadcast of the 23 February performance across the UK and Ireland and in selected cinemas worldwide. Photo: © ENO.