The Lighthouse 1280x680 © Herwig Prammer

Chamber opera in one prologue and one act (1980)

Music and libretto by Peter Maxwell Davies

In English with German surtitles

New production of Theater an der Wien at Kammeroper

Premiere: Thursday, 28 October 2021, 7.30 pm until 8.45 pm (no intermission)

Performance: 29 October 2021, 7.30 pm until 8.45 pm (no intermission)

Introduction matinée: 17 October 2021, 11 am


The fisherman Peter Grimes is avoided by his fellow villagers. He is a taciturn outsider, and two of his apprentices have already died. The villagers suspect that Grimes may have had something to do with the deaths. An investigation is held, but nothing can be proved. However, he is advised to take on an adult rather than a boy as his next assistant. The teacher Ellen Orford is the only person who supports Grimes. Balstrode, a former captain, advises him to marry Ellen to put a stop to all the gossip, but the fisherman is reluctant, saying he wants to earn sufficient money and standing first. To cope with all the work, Grimes, ignoring the advice he was given, is looking for another boy to take on as an apprentice. As ever the apothecary Keene organises one for him from the workhouse. Hobson, the ferryman, at first refuses to fetch another victim for Grimes. It is only when Ellen volunteers to go with him that he relents. From now on, Grimes is closely watched. Outside the church on a Sunday several weeks later, Ellen notices that the boy has a bruise. She confronts Grimes about it and the two quarrel. Grimes takes the boy away with him, intending to go out fishing. But after the church service the villagers have found out that something is amiss with Grimes and his apprentice. They band together to make Grimes see reason. Grimes is just about to set sail with the boy when he hears the angry mob. He grabs the boy and makes a dash for the boat, but in his panic the boy slips on the rocks and falls over the edge of the cliff. When the villagers reach Grimes’s hut it is empty. Days later, Ellen and Balstrode find the boy’s pullover. Now the villagers are convinced that Grimes has committed another murder and swarm out again to make him pay for his crimes. Ellen and Balstrode find Grimes before the angry mob does, but he is confused and does not hear them. Despairingly he realises that he will never succeed in living the way he must and wants to. In the end, Balstrode gives Grimes one last piece of advice: He should sail out to sea and let the boat go down with him in it. When reports reach the village that a boat has sunk, life resumes its normal, tranquil course.


Benjamin Britten fled with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, to the United States in 1939 to escape the impending war, the spread of National Socialism and possibly also the constraints of conservative mores in England. They settled in New York, hoping for freedom from violence and for tolerance towards their homosexuality which it was possible to be more open about than in Europe, at least in artistic circles. It was at this time that Britten came across George Crabbe’s (1754–1832) narrative poem The Borough (1810). The poem portrays the inhabitants of a small fishing village in Suffolk, Britten’s home county. When reading the work, the composer quickly developed the idea of turning the tale of the fisherman Peter Grimes into an opera. At the same time it caused a great feeling of homesickness coupled with anxiety about his friends and family at home. Consequently, Pears and Britten returned to England in 1942 in the midst of the war. Britten’s first large-scale opera Peter Grimes is therefore an expression of highly private concerns: a longing for his home, for the English seaside towns and the feeling of being an outsider forced to conceal his homosexuality, which was not decriminalised in England until 1967. The author Charles Montagu Slater adapted the Grimes episode from The Borough as a libretto, and Britten composed the music in 1944/45. He wrote the ambivalent title role of the fisherman torn by inner conflict specifically to suit Peter Pears’s singing abilities. The work received its premiere on 7 June 1945 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London and was a resounding success. Britten creates an evocative and powerful portrayal of the villagers, the sea and the anguish of Grimes in his permanent misunderstanding of himself and his fellow humans. The Opera-Award-winning production by Christof Loy precisely traces Grimes’s position as an outcast in a conservative community and the suggestion of his homosexuality. We present a revival of the 2015/16 production at the request of our audience who chose it as one of the three best Theater an der Wien productions.



Michael Zlabinger


Georg Zlabinger

Set & costume design

Martin Zlabinger

Light design

Franz Tscheck

Sandy / Officer 1

Andrew Morstein

Blazes / Officer 2

Timothy Connor

Arthur / Officer 3

Johannes Schwendinger


Wiener KammerOrchester


The Lighthouse

Premiere: 28. Oktober 2021

Director: Georg Zlabinger

Set & Costume Design: Martin Zlabinger

Light designer: Franz Tscheck

Photos: (c) Herwig Prammer