|Renaissance costume: Don Carlo, Met 2010|
|19th-century costumes: Glyndebourne, 2004|
|T-shirts, etc: Bavarian State Opera, 2012|
|San Franciso Opera 1976|
But there's Britten's amazingly modernist music to take into account. It's edgy, abrupt, bitterly ironic. Having Britten in the pit seems to demand something other than realism: not Zola but Auden (or even Ted Hughes?) would be the literary equivalent.
The current Grimes at the English National Opera takes Britten's modernism as the cue for an amazing set, as angular and occasionally nasty as the score. Walls that tilt sharply; tables that are thrust up at horrible angles, on which the singers have to balance; sharp, eerie shadows cast by characters, as if their souls were lurking on the back wall of the set; a bilious and claustrophic lighting, out of Hopper's Night Cafe.
The only video I can find of the production is the ENO trailer, clearly a promotional collage. But its snippets capture some of the asymmetrical, jagged energy of this remarkable modernist production:
The great success of this tragic opera is that it takes this nasty tale about a terrible man and makes it beautiful; even Peter Grimes himself, like Macbeth, shows a soul of beauty. Here, to end with, is Stuart Skelton, who sings Grimes at the ENO (though he was sick the night I heard it, and his understudy did a great job), singing the amazing first-act aria, "The Great Bear."
Now the great Bear and Pleiades
where earth moves
Are drawing up the clouds
of human grief
Breathing solemnity in the deep night.
Who can decipher
In storm or starlight
The written character
of a friendly fate –
As the sky turns, the world for us to change?
But if the horoscope's
Like a flashing turmoil
of a shoal of herring,
Who can turn skies back and begin again?