The activities in this guide address several aspects of Peter Grimes:
- the tools Britten uses to convey the emotional complexity of his tale;
- the ethical issues provoked by the characters’ behavior;
- Britten’s use of contrasting musical approaches to create character; and
- the opera as a work of art, involving a wide range of creative decisions by the composer, the librettist, and the artists who have created this new production for the Metropolitan Opera.
The guide seeks not only to acquaint students with Peter Grimes, but also to encourage them to think more broadly about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a means of personal and philosophical expression. Little prior knowledge is required for the activities.
Peter Grimes on Trial
The protagonist of Peter Grimes is an antihero—a deeply flawed figure with whom we can nonetheless empathize. Despised by most of his townspeople, he’s a character even audiences may struggle to accept. Yet even though he is implicated in the deaths of two boys, the opera never reveals whether he’s a murderer, an abusive guardian, or simply an unfortunate bystander. This activity offers students an opportunity to prepare for the Live in HD transmission of Peter Grimes by applying their own ethical judgment to Grimes and his behavior. They will:
become acquainted with the opera’s plot and characters;
consider the specific information the opera provides about Grimes—and what information is left out;
recognize the intentional ambiguity of Britten’s ending; and
use their own judgment in trying to resolve that ambiguity.
The Sounds of Loneliness
One notable aspect of Peter Grimes is the way Britten uses music to establish both Peter Grimes’s psychological states and his relationship to the other citizens of the Borough. In this activity, students will listen closely to one key scene from the opera, then create storyboards blocking out the events of the scene. Students will:
analyze Britten’s use of musical composition to communicate both the inner lives and the interrelationships of his characters;
explore the tools an opera composer has at his disposal;
consider the relationship between Slater’s text and Britten’s music; and
acquaint themselves with some of the character relationships and music of Peter Grimes in advance of the Met’s Live in HD transmission.