UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Gesture and sympathy in the 1969 BBC production of Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes" Harvey, Rosemary Alyce


Throughout his career, Benjamin Britten was actively involved in the composition of music for television and film, for projects ranging from documentary soundtracks for the General Post Office Film Unit (1935-36) to television adaptations of his operas. This thesis will examine the television production of Peter Grimes, which was shot under Britten’s supervision in 1969 at the Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh. The production has Peter Pears, Britten’s partner and collaborator, in the title role, a role that he also performed in the 1945 premiere of the opera. As in many of his operas, Peter Grimes encourages the audience to sympathetically identify with a character who is an outsider in society. Grimes, for example, is rejected by the people in the local village, yet is made to be a multi-dimensional character who the audience is encouraged to feel sympathy for. The thesis will examine how gesture is used in the production to create a sympathetic connection between Grimes and the audience. It will also pay particular attention to the use of camera techniques to enhance this connection through different shots including close-ups and framing the individual against the crowd. In addition, it examines how the gestures performed relate to and interact with the accompanying score. The gestures used by Grimes in three scenes of the opera will be examined in detail: the Prologue, Interlude IV, and Act III scene ii. This thesis will examine Britten’s perceptions of the character of Grimes, his involvement in the television production process, and his views on acting. Through looking at Pears’s copies of vocal scores, it will also explore his relationship with Grimes and how he approached gesture in his operatic roles.

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