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Thursday, October 21, 1999
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Volume 65, Issue 43


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Britain by Britten

MSM to perform English opera Peter Grimes

By Pin Lim and John Harp
Daily Cougar Staff

Here's the setup: Peter Grimes, fisherman in a small English village (called simply the Borough) and the hero of our story, has just been acquitted in a trial over the death of his boy apprentice.

Grimes claims the apprentice died of dehydration when the two of them were lost at sea for three days, and the court is inclined to believe him. It may sound like clear sailing for our fine fisherman, but the verdict really begins his slow fall into despair.


Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar


Peter Jacoby, music director of the upcoming opera Peter Grimes,  rehearses with the Moores Orchestra. Peter Grimes begins Friday, Oct. 22, and runs through Monday.

Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, the most famous British opera since Baroque composer Henry Purcell's Dido and Aneas, will be presented by the Edythe Bates Old Moores Opera Center, under the direction of Peter Jacoby, Friday through Monday. The production features more than 160 performers, both vocal and instrumental, and will be sung in English, with English surtitles.

So how do things go sour for our protagonist, whose trial is in fact the opera's prologue? Quickly, actually.

Gossiping townspeople, more inclined to suspect Grimes than trust the verdict, and the harsh realities of lower-class living in a coastal village, block his path to happiness, his hope of amassing enough money to marry local schoolteacher Ellen Orford.

Desperate for cheap help at his work, he hires a second young apprentice. Whether drunk on love or on ale, his almost manic personality makes Grimes an outsider, even in the tightly knit community of the Borough. Their increasingly condemnatory attitudes toward his behavior drive him to tragedy. He becomes, in a way, the madman and murderer the townsfolk suspect he is, and destroys himself.

Produced for the first time in 1945, Peter Grimes is steeped in almost Dickensian realism. It features scads of minor characters, and its sets, far from fantastical, are such spots as the pub, church and courtroom of the Borough.

The libretto, by Montagu Slater, was based on excerpts from the long narrative poem The Borough by English writer George Crabbe, whose works portray in grimy detail the day-to-day life of the 19th century British underclass. Britten expressed similar intent for his adaptation.

"I wanted to express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihoods depend on the sea," he wrote in his introduction to the 1945 production.

Tickets for the Moores School of Music proformances are $10 general admission, $7 for faculty, staff and alumni and $5 for students. Seating is reserved. A free preview and discussion of the opera will be held 45 minutes before each performance. Call (713) 743-3313.
 

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