Stuart Skelton is the best Peter Grimes I have ever heard.

Comparisons are odious, so that I will spare the reader that annoyance. I will merely mention the name of Peter Pears, the original Peter Grimes, flawless in diction, his odd vocal production an acquired taste, but his earnest acting (which can be viewed on You Tube) one of his many assets, with an essentially lyric voice rising up to the Olympian challenges of the role by sheer willpower.

But the role of Peter Grimes, the tormented English fisherman, when taken up by any tenor, even a great dramatic-heroic tenor like Stuart Skelton, is a different kettle of fish. The part lies oddly, often sitting right on the tricky area of the passage from upper middle to high voice, as in the scene with Ellen Orford – the wonderful soprano Erin Wall – in which Britten asks the singer of Grimes to stay forever and a day on the E at the top of the treble staff and sing from piano to forte without competing with or obliterating the work of his partner.

Skelton, who could easily throw caution to the winds and open up at a middle-of-the-road mezzo forte all the time maintains instead a beautiful tone at whatever dynamic level is required. At moments he summons a baritone timbre that he has displayed to advantage in his recently heard Tristan, but at no time there is any evidence of his inflating the sound. In his arioso – In dreams I’ve built and in his soliloquy about the stars above in the pub scene Skelton establishes himself as the finest heroic tenor of his generation: one capable of singing with a true mezza voce and next thunder at full throttle.

And so it goes throughout the two and a half hours musical-dramatic journey that the protean Stuart Skelton shares with a marvelous cast in which baritone Roderick Williams is a rock solid Balstrode. Led by the superb English conductor Edward Gardner the splendid Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus shine in the several interludes that depict the ever changing surrounding seas that mirror the equally fluctuating human emotions that permeate this harrowing story about an odd man out.

This CHANDOS recording of Benjamin Britten’s operatic masterpiece is a treasure and now available to all lovers of great Opera.

First Interlude:

Rafael de Acha