This production of Peter Grimes, first seen in 2006 and revived in 2008, was conceived and performed without the use of surtitles. It was originally our intention to surtitle certain passages of the text for this revival, but as rehearsals have progressed we have come to the conclusion that such titling could prove a distraction and potentially undermine the audience’s overall musical and theatrical experience of the work.
Benjamin Britten’s supreme skill at setting English words to music is universally acknowledged. The register of the text of Peter Grimes ranges widely, between the straightforward and conversational and the dense and poetic. Britten took great care to set the conversational passages as clearly as possible. At other times, literal meaning was less important to the composer than the suggestive qualities of the text – when meaning is conveyed at least as much by music, image and gesture as it is by the words. In the words of our director, Phyllida Lloyd, ‘The composer is clear when he wants to be and densely poetic and veiled at other times’.
We have therefore decided that this production, which spoke so clearly and powerfully to audiences in previous iterations, should be allowed to do so again in the way in which the composer intended.