- Peter Grimes, opera, Op. 33
One of 20th-century opera's central masterpieces, Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes comes off vividly in this live performance from Colin Davis and a fine cast of singers. The veteran Davis is no newcomer to the work, having conducted a defining 1978 recording with John Vickers as the brutish and tormented lead character, who is driven to suicide by the pitiless inhabitants of his English fishing village (their hatred for Grimes is fueled by the fact that the young boys who work for him have a way of dying accidentally). Vickers's forceful interpretation was a drastic departure from the more poetic vision of Peter Pears, Britten's partner, for whom the role was written. The tenor here, Glenn Winslade, seems more in line with the Pears tradition, offering a sympathetic and lyrical performance, and if his voice shows audible signs of strain at times, the supporting cast is excellent throughout: Janice Watson is a noble Ellen, Anthony Michaels-Moore a secure Ballstrode, and Jill Grove a full-voiced Auntie. The greatest asset of this performance, however, is the orchestra: The London Symphony play with a finesse and gusto that impresses mightily. The orchestral interludes between each act (which Britten later arranged as Four Sea Interludes) steal the show with edge-of-the-seat playing that is as intense as North Sea storm -- but their performance is also beautifully poised when required. Davis's interpretation has clearly deepened with the years, ripening into compelling maturity, and the London musicians follow his lead and fill every bar with the fervor that this ravishing score deserves.