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Music Text

Libretto by Montagu Slater, derived from a poem by George Crabbe (E,Bg,Cz,Dn,F,Fl,Fn,G,H,I,J,P,Sc)


Major roles: S,A,T,Bar; minor roles: 2S,M,2T,Bar,2B,2mimes; chorus


Dance band on-stage*:2cl-perc:cym/SD/BD-pft(ad lib)-vln.db

(*taken from the orchestra)

Abbreviations (PDF)


Boosey & Hawkes

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Sadler's Wells, London
Eric Crozier, director
Conductor: Reginald Goodall
Company: Sadler's Wells Opera


PETER GRIMES, a fisherman Tenor
BOY (JOHN), his apprentice Silent role
ELLEN ORFORD, a widow, schoolmistress of the Borough Soprano
CAPTAIN BALSTRODE, retired merchant skipper Baritone
AUNTIE, landlady of "The Boar" Alto
TWO NIECES, main attractions of "The Boar" Sopranos
SWALLOW, a lawyer Bass
BOB BOLES, fisherman and Methodist Tenor
MRS. (NABOB) SEDLEY, a rentier widow of an East India Company's factor Mezzo-Soprano
REV. HORACE ADAMS, the rector Tenor
NED KEENE, apothecary and quack Baritone
HOBSON, carrier Bass
DR. CRABBE Silent role
Chorus of townspeople and fisherfolk SATB
Time and Place

The Borough, a fishing village, East Coast of Anglia, towards 1830


At an inquest into the death of William Spode, apprentice to the fisherman Peter Grimes, coroner Swallow calls various witnesses, including Grimes himself, but the verdict of death in accidental circumstances does not satisfy the bulk of the villagers, who regard Grimes as a violent criminal. Their attitude becomes one of open antagonism when his only friend, the schoolmistress Ellen Orford, collects another apprentice from the workhouse for him. In the pub that evening Grimes claims his new boy, to a reception from his fellow townsfolk that is openly and almost universally hostile.

Ellen befriends the new boy, John, but is horrified to find evidence on his body of mistreatment. Challenging Peter with this, she is struck in her turn, and while the pub landlady Auntie and her dubious nieces find some sympathy for her the men of the village march in deputation to Grimes's hut to tackle him. They find it empty — minutes before the new apprentice had fallen to his death over the cliff edge and Peter had climbed down after him.

Grimes now disappears, and the local gossip Mrs Sedley stirs the village worthies once more into action, this time with the entire Borough (minus Ellen and the retired sea captain Balstrode) forming a manhunt. While they chase after him, Grimes, completely unhinged by his experiences, turns up on the shore, to be sent by Balstrode to sink himself and his boat at sea. As the village returns to life the following morning, a report of a ship going down is dismissed as a rumour.

Repertoire Note

In 1942, Britten, then living in America, came across an article by the novelist E.M.Forster on the Suffolk poet George Crabbe, an encounter that was a decisive factor in Britten’s resolve to return to England for good. It was Crabbe’s poem ‘The Borough’ which subsequently served as the basis for Britten’s first full-scale opera, Peter Grimes, the work that launched him internationally as the leading British composer of his generation and which almost single-handedly effected the renaissance of English opera.

The composer’s self-avowed aim in the opera was ‘to express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends on the sea’ and anyone who has visited the coastline around the composer’s home town of Aldeburgh will recognize the uncanny certainty with which Britten has captured that land- and seascape in Peter Grimes. Perhaps more importantly, the opera also introduces many of the fundamental dramatic themes which characterise Britten’s entire operatic output: the individual against the mass, and the corruption of innocence.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Britten-Pears Library


Dramatic, Poetic, Tragic

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