The moral tone of Peter Grimes, the most popular of Benjamin Britten's 15 operas, is as gray as the skies of the Suffolk coast, the story's locale and the composer's beloved home base. Is Grimes a renegade fisherman justly scorned by his fellow villagers for his ill treatment of boy apprentices? Or is he a free spirit whose independent streak is resented by self-righteous, duplicitous accusers? A gay artist and a conscientious objector during World War II, the young Britten must have seen in Grimes a figure he could identify with--an outsider misjudged by society--though at the suggestion of his companion, tenor Peter Pears, he toned down Grimes's homoerotic yearnings and added a woman as his possible savior. Grimes's fate is magnificently conveyed in music that sounds like Berg with an ear for lovely tunes and is heavy on metaphor. The opera has the coherence of a well-constructed symphony, with six orchestral interludes that add atmosphere and psychological commentary. Pears, who sang the first Grimes, reportedly played him as a tormented soul, a Byronic wanderer. Jon Vickers, also a definitive interpreter, turned Grimes into a powerful, noble wreck. The Grimes in this Lyric revival is Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, who sang with blazing intensity in Lyric's Turandot and McTeague. Others in the cast include soprano Emily Magee as the love interest and baritone Timothy Nolen as the amorous apothecary. Conductor Mark Elder, making his Lyric debut, has won kudos for his insight into Britten's music. Friday, Monday, and Thursday, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ben Heppner photo by Lisa Kohler.