Opera Scotland

Peter Grimes 1968Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Peter Grimes

In 1968, the Edinburgh Festival followed its Stravinsky theme of the previous year by concentrating on two composers, Britten and Schubert. The result was a Festival full of memorable concerts and recitals. Perhaps the operatic side was slightly uncertain. Scottish Opera had recently been exploring Albert Herring (taking it to Florence in May) and now produced Peter Grimes for the first time. The English Opera Group also brought the most recent of Britten's stage works, the three Parables for Church Performance. Schubert's operas have always been seen as a problem area of his output, with stagings extremely rare. Sadly, no full-scale presentation was attempted here, but the Festival did at least mount a memorable concert performance of Alfonso und Estrella.

The visiting company was again from Germany - a third season by the Hamburg State Opera, previously seen in 1952 and 1956. The original plans included the British premiere of Arden Must Die, Alexander Goehr's recent adaptation of the Thomas Heywood tragedy Arden of Faversham, as well as a Scottish premiere for Strauss's Arabella. In the event, due to the notorious technical restrictions imposed by the stage facilities of the King's Theatre, the only venue available for opera, the Strauss was quickly dropped. Though the Goehr was initially announced, along with Fliegende Holländer and Ariadne auf Naxos, by the time booking opened it had been substituted with Elektra - admittedly requiring a large orchestra, but with only one set.

The first staging of Britten’s early masterpiece by Scottish Opera was also the first time that Colin Graham had worked both with the company and on the opera. The great success of the event was the hair-raising performance by the Scottish Opera Chorus and Scottish National Orchestra under Gibson. The designs of Alix Stone, meticulously based on a row of fisher cottages, also worked well, combined with excellent Dickensian costumes.

The Festival run was due to open with Richard Cassilly’s British debut, but he had a throat problem which obliged him to miss the first two evenings. The opening night therefore featured the company debut of Nigel Douglas, who had spent most of his career on the continent. Britten was in the audience and remembered him when he was composing Owen Wingrave a few years later – Nigel Douglas went on to create the role of Owen’s classmate Lechmere.

Phyllis Curtin returned after her successful 1966 Marguerite, while John Shaw and Elizabeth Bainbridge repeated parts they had sung at Covent Garden. Harold Blackburn and William McAlpine were Scots with notable, and lengthy, careers in London and elsewhere.

After the Festival two performances were given in Newcastle, along with Figaro – Scottish Opera’s first visit to a city which became a regular touring date for twenty-five years until the expansion of Opera North meant they supplanted the Scottish company.

Performance Cast

Hobson carrier, constable of The Borough

John Lawson Graham

Swallow lawyer, Mayor of The Borough

Harold Blackburn

Peter Grimes a fisherman

Nigel Douglas (Exc Aug 23, 26)

Richard Cassilly (Aug 23, 26)

Mrs 'Nabob' Sedley widow of an East India Company factor

Johanna Peters

Ellen Orford widow and schoolmistress

Phyllis Curtin

Captain Balstrode a retired sea officer

John Shaw (Exc Sep 14)

Neil Easton (Sep 14)

Bob Boles fisherman and Methodist

William McAlpine

Rev Horace Adams the Rector

John Robertson

Auntie landlady of 'The Boar'

Elizabeth Bainbridge

First 'Niece'

Patricia Hay

Second 'Niece'

Ann Baird

Ned Keene apothecary and quack

Michael Maurel (Aug)

William Elvin (Sep)

Dr Crabbe

Norman White (Aug)

Robert Harvey (Sep)

John the new apprentice

Dennis Sheridan

Performance DatesPeter Grimes 1968

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

19 Aug, 19.00 21 Aug, 19.00 23 Aug, 19.00 26 Aug, 19.00

Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne

10 Sep, 19.00 14 Sep, 19.00

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