Positively Thrilling

CHAUTAUQUA – Saturday evening was filled with powerful singing and grim majesty, as Chautauqua Opera performed their production of Benjamin Britten’s dark masterpiece: ”Peter Grimes.”

Director Jay Lesenger filled the cast with big voices, and they moved through the plot with an energy which was positively thrilling. The opera is the story of a poor fisherman who works himself like an animal to try to make a better life for himself, but the sea refuses to yield its fish until he works harder, and harder yet, and the people of his fishing village are determined that if he works so hard, he must have some dark reason, until one by one, they have closed off every possible positive choice he might have made.

The Chautauqua audience was lucky, indeed to have had the opportunity to have heard this masterpiece. I must express a bit of doubt that people who are on vacation, while in an out-of-doors performing space, on a hot and muggy evening, are able to appreciate and cope with the tragedy of the human condition, but oh, those who could were well rewarded..

Tenor Kevin Ray has a young and very supple voice. His singing of the title role was beautifully expressive, and filled the outdoor Amphitheater to the brim with sound.

Soprano Elizabeth Baldwin had a difficult role as the widowed teacher who saw Grimes as her last possibility for a happier destiny. The musical line rose to the rafters and sank to the floorboards, yet she gave solid, beautiful tone quality and vibrant energy, throughout.

Cindy Sadler was a hoot as the town busybody, set to stick her nose into everyone’s business. Philip Cokorinos had a rich, dark bass voice which made the town lawyer, judge, mayor, etc. into a figure beyond comedy, to fearsome.

Conductor Steven Osgood made good on his promise to make the orchestra a member of the cast. The orchestra’s sound was disciplined and taut, and it blended perfectly with the moods and actions on the stage. The orchestra is intended to portray the sea, and there could have been no doubt the power and the cold ruthlessness of the waters from which Grimes sought to wrestle his living.

I assume that Jared Jacobsen’s passages on the Massey Organ were pre-recorded, because I couldn’t see him playing the giant instrument, anywhere, and if it was a recording, the technology to make every attack perfectly in time was a masterpiece, in itself.

Michael Baumgarten’s lighting was a masterpiece, dark and grey-blue, yet scintillating enough to offer promise, however false.

I’m delighted to have had the chance to have heard and seen this production. Chautauqua Opera’s only other production of the season will be Verdi’s opera ”Falstaff,” which will be performed July 26 and 29, in Norton Hall, on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution.