• Peter Grimes Post-Show Discussion

 How Did It End?

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Students will enjoy starting the class with an open discussion of the Met performance. What did they like? What didn’t they? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to see or hear again? What would they have done differently? The discussion offers an opportunity to apply the notes on students’ My Highs & Lows sheet, as well as their thoughts about the visual design of the Met production—in short, to see themselves as Peter Grimes experts.

Summaries of Peter Grimes frequently say he dies at the end of the opera. But Britten’s librettist, Montagu Slater, in fact never makes that ending crystal clear. We know that a sinking boat has been spotted at sea—even if, as the last moments of the opera indicate, the people of the Borough don’t know or care:

Auntie: What is it?
Boles: Nothing I can see.
Auntie: One of these rumours.

We also know that Grimes set sail at Captain Balstrode’s urging. But what exactly did Balstrode advise? Attentive operagoers will have noticed his careful words, “Sail out till you lose sight of land, then sink the boat. D’you hear? Sink her. Goodbye Peter.”

Could Balstrode have been advising Grimes to kill himself? Would such advice be within his character as it has unfolded in the opera? Would he offer such advice in front of the compassionate Ellen? Having seen the opera, your students may enjoy discussing these questions—and two more:

  • Did Peter Grimes actually die?
  • If not, what might have become of him?

Students can explore these questions in a creative essay. Beginning with the facts of the opera, their knowledge of its characters, and in particular, their understanding of Peter Grimes himself, they can write a sequel to Britten’s opera. Does Grimes return to the Borough? If not, where does he go? Or does his body wash up? What do the townsfolk do? In short, what happened to Peter Grimes?

As appropriate for your teaching situation, students can work either singly or in teams to write their Peter Grimes sequels, either in class or for homework. If it’s practical in your classroom, students will probably enjoy sharing and comparing the endings they devise.