Issachah Savage
Photo: Jiyang Chen

Stage director Horáková and tenor Issachah Savage on Peter Grimes

1 March 2024

Together, Barbora Horáková and Issachah Savage examine one of the most fascinating and complex characters in opera history.

Text: Laura Roling

Barbora Horáková:Peter Grimes is set in a small fishing community, and the sea plays a crucial role in both the music and the action. The opera’s appeal goes much further, though: it confronts us profoundly with the human condition. We all know groups, whether they are a school class, a village or a neighbourhood, that refuse to accept anyone who deviates from the norm in any way. This opera is a superb, enthralling account of how the dangerous mechanisms of a lack of empathy, mob mentality, incitement and exclusion can get out of hand.”

“At the heart of the opera is Peter Grimes, the fisherman accused of the murder of his apprentice. He is officially acquitted but the other villagers continue to see him as guilty. A really strong aspect of this opera is the decision by the composer and librettist to be vague about what actually happened. It gives the opera real depth and ambiguity. The Peter Grimes we get to know in the opera is a dreamer, a poetic and misunderstood soul, but also someone with a very short fuse who is socially inept.”

“To do justice to this ambivalent character in all his complexity requires a close partnership between me and ‘my’ Grimes, the tenor Issachah Savage. Grimes is not the kind of role where all you have to do is provide a costume and some stage directions. It is a role that needs to be shaped through a profound connection with the character. I’ve already had my first talk with Issachah about the role and it is incredibly inspiring to discuss the character and what drives him.”

Barbora Horáková
The director Barbora Horáková studied singing at the Basel Academy of Music and the Geneva Conservatory of Music, and directing at the Bayerische Theaterakademie in Munich. She soon grew to become one of the prominent opera directors of her generation, with productions for companies including the Wiener Staatsoper, Staatsoper Berlin, Semperoper Dresden, the National Theatre in Prague and Opera Ballet Vlaanderen. She made her DNO debut in 2021 with Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli.

Barbora Horáková
Barbora Horáková | Photo: Filip VanRoe

“The parallels with today’s world are uncanny”

Issachah Savage:Peter Grimes was created almost eighty years ago but this opera is still extremely topical and relevant today. The parallels between the opera and today’s world are uncanny. People who fail to fit in with certain social norms are still being cast out and mistreated daily. And I also see a striking parallel in the way facts and evidence are treated as irrelevant. Peter Grimes is eventually tried and found guilty in the court of cruel, volatile public opinion. In that sense, this opera could just as easily have been written last week.”

“I feel a great affinity with roles that tell the story of an outsider; the odd duck, so to speak. That is why, as a performer, I feel drawn to the complexity of Peter Grimes as a character. He is a troubled man with a lot of baggage, an impassioned loner who still wants to belong, but fails despite his fragile attempts.”

“I’m convinced this is going to be a really special production. It was clear from my first meeting with Barbora Horáková that I’ll be working with a director who is just as passionate about the profundity of the drama and about the music of Peter Grimes as I am. I am looking forward to working on this role with her and letting audiences feel the unapologetic humanity and vulnerability of this character.”

Issachah Savage
With his warm, youthfully dramatic voice, the tenor Issachah Savage is one of the rising stars in the opera scene. He has sung at the Metropolitan Opera and the Salzburger Festspiele. His repertoire includes Verdi roles such as Radamès in Aida and the title role in Otello, as well as the Wagnerian roles of Siegmund in Die Walküre and the eponymous role in Tannhäuser. Now he is adding the multi-faceted title role in Britten’s Peter Grimes to that list.