The Princeton Festival presents Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, directed by Steven LaCosse. Opera fans will most likely purchase tickets because they know the quality of a Princeton Festival production, and for the opportunity to watch a quality opera locally. Those who are not fans of opera might want to reconsider this year for a few reasons.
One big difference between opera and musical theater is that opera is music driven and musicals rely on dialogue. Operas began in the late 16th century and are mostly written in Italian, German, French, and Russian languages, and are accompanied by an orchestra playing classical music. There are two valuable resources to help understand the plot. A libretto contains all the words and stage directions of the opera, so it could be read before attending, and there are supertitles, which are translated lyrics that are projected above the stage to allow the audience to follow the story. An exception is the operetta, of which most have some unaccompanied dialogue. Broadway musicals are written in English, include spoken dialogue, lots of dancing, the singing of popular music, and for the most part take place in modern times, though some are period pieces.
Peter Grimes is written in English. Because of this, those new to opera can concentrate on the story, much like attending a musical. The Princeton Festival offers a full production, so the set design, costumes, and live symphony orchestra will satisfy your entertainment needs on the level of a Broadway musical sans dancing.
This opera takes place in post World War II, so it’s more contemporary than pieces set in say the 18th or 19th centuries. Peter Grimes addresses our heartlessness towards human beings, and is relevant to what is happening in the world still today, which will resonate with audiences.
Two students of St. Ann School in Lawrenceville, Will Guhl-Erdie and Alex Hermann, are sharing the role of Peter Grimes’s apprentice John. Alex is the son of Princeton Public Library’s Public Programming Librarian Janie Hermann. Additionally, Adeline Edwards, Bob Jerez, Avery Morgan, and Dean Morgan are four other local kids who will take on the roles of town children. They have no vocal parts, but their mere presence brings joy to the stage and a connection to the community. This is a wonderful opportunity to see someone you possibly know perform in a professional opera!
For the average household, Peter Grimes is not a known opera like Carmen or The Barber of Seville, but it’s one of the most popular 20th century works in the operatic repertory. The titled character is a fisherman living in a small British town in the county of Suffolk. After the death of his young apprentice at sea, the court summons him for a preliminary hearing. The villagers are convinced that Grimes is at fault, but he is released with a warning not to take on another apprentice, but rather work with an adult fisherman. Determined to use an apprentice so he can make a larger profit to plan a life with schoolmistress Ellen Orford, Grimes ignores the court’s ruling and sneaks a boy into the village from a workhouse. While boarding the fishing boat, the new apprentice slips and falls to his death. The old sea captain Balstrode tells Grimes to sail his ship out to sea and drown himself. Despite Ellen Orford’s plea for him not to do it, Grimes heads out to sea.
This was no small undertaking. Director Steven LaCosse, no stranger to The Princeton Festival, has earlier productions under his belt on the Matthews stage at McCarter Theatre Centre, including The Flying Dutchman, Porgy and Bess, and Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). LaCosse continues to deliver a premium city experience in the suburbs. It’s no wonder The Princeton Festival won Discover New Jersey Arts’ 2016 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Opera Company (The Marriage of Figaro).
Conductor Richard Tang Yuk, who is also the General & Artistic Director, led the orchestra with precision. He communicated his interpretation of the music well to the audience. It stirred emotions from within – sometimes somber and other times uplifting, and beautifully executed Britten’s famous orchestral ‘Sea Interludes’ that connected scenes.
Chorus Master Gregory Geehern enabled the chorus to reach their potential as their voices enveloped our souls and brought us into the story. Répétiteur/Coach Stanley Fink also did an amazing job ensuring all had perfect pitch and pronunciation. Set Designer Jonathan Dahm Robertson cleverly brought a fishing village to life in Princeton. The multiple levels of reconfigured ramps, fishing nets, and ropes just needed the scent of salty sea air to transform the audience to Suffolk. Costume Designer Marie Miller paid attention to detail from the fishermen and officers of the court, to the schoolmistress and Auntie’s ‘nieces’.
Tenor Alex Richardson (Peter Grimes) of the Metropolitan Opera had a voice that was so powerful he could summon Neptune from the sea. As Grimes, we felt his frustrations, determination, and guilt. Grammy-nominated soprano Caroline Worra (schoolmistress Ellen Orford) shone like a beacon from a lighthouse. Her vocals showed strength and control.
Whether you’re an opera novice, or long time fan, you will enjoy Peter Grimes. You can purchase tickets for performances on Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 PM, and on Sunday June 26, at 3:00 PM online for $30-$140. Running time is approximately 3 hours with 1 intermission.