ENOScreen: Peter Grimes (live)

On Sunday, the English National Opera brought a live performance of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes to cinema screens across the UK. Directed by David Alden and starring Stuart Skelton and Eliza van den Heever, it was a revival of the acclaimed 2009 ENO production. This was opera on the big screen and seen in a completely new way.

When I discussed the broadcast with music video and film director Andy Morahan for a BBC Music Magazine article last week, he described the more immersive, direct and varied way he was planning to shoot the production. My colleague watched the production from the Coliseum on the same day and when I asked her if the use of on-stage and reverse cameras was noticeable, she said (as Morahan himself attested) she didn't see them once. Incredible.

To locate the stage in its space, the cameras panned the audience before the action started. Clemency Burton-Hill gave a short introduction and then we were into the opera and that iconic 'Peter Grimes! Peter Grimes!' opening. It really was a stunning performance – really chilling and powerful overall, and featuring absolutely superb performances from every member of the cast. Skelton, in particular, was breathtaking as Grimes, with the range of his voice and striking portrayal of an isolated, scared and frightening man.

There was documentary footage during the intermissions, which really contextualised the production without distracting from the end spectacle. And what seeing the show at the cinema gave us were brilliant close-ups: I get the impression we saw many more details (facial expressions, the sweat of effort) than those in the back row seats of the theatre.

Details, such as in Act II, Scene I when Ellen knits and removes her shoes, and the end of Act II, Scene II where Grimes cradles the dead boy distraught, felt so clear and close. And such high drama was perfectly captured by the cameras when the apprentice boy fell to his death in the end of Act II. The camera's ability to capture close-ups was also particularly affective in the final scene during Grimes's moving solo aria.

The orchestra, under Edward Gardner, brought real energy to Britten's score, providing such tender accompaniment to the solo arias as well.

Something that was strange was not to clap with the audience to congratulate the cast on being so wonderful at the end of scenes. When it finished, we just shuffled out of the cinema, perhaps missing the visceral experience of actually attending opera. But it was absolutely thrilling to see this amazing Grimes played out live on the big screen. Andy Morohan and his team really have achieved something special with their immersive filming of Grimes, and this ENO production is second to none.

The final showing of ENO's Peter Grimes is at 7pm on Thursday 27th February at London Coliseum.
Visit: eno.org


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