Opera in three acts with a prologue by Benjamin Britten
Prologue · Court
While at work, Peter Grimes’ apprentice William Spode died. It is the duty of the court, presided over by Mr. Swallow, to decide whether Grimes was responsible for the boy’s death. Swallow believes Grimes’ story that the apprentice died of thirst but forbids him to take on a new boy.
The citizens are angry that the court fails to convict Grimes.
Ellen Orford promises to stand by Peter, no matter what happens. Grimes knows that the other villagers hold him responsible for the boy’s death – even though he was cleared of suspicion.
Act 1 · Scene I · Spring tide
Everybody is going about their daily tasks.
Ned Keene offers Peter Grimes a new apprentice. Driver Hobson is told to collect him. Ellen accompanies him so she can look after the child on the journey.
A storm starts to gather.
Balstrode advises Peter to leave the community or marry Ellen. Grimes cannot take either of these courses. First, he wants to earn some money and acquire standing. Act 1 · Scene II · Party
The villagers meet together, looking for protection against the storm. Mrs. Sedley is waiting for a delivery of painkillers in Auntie’s pub. Methodist Bob Boles is chatting up Auntie’s nieces. Peter appears and declares in poetic language that he wants to make a fresh start in life. Everybody thinks he is mad.
Balstrode calls for a song, and everybody has something to eat.
Driver Hobson and Ellen arrive with the child. Grimes takes him home. Act 2 · Scene I · Mass
While the villagers are celebrating mass, Ellen quizzes the boy. She discovers a bruise on the boy, and deduces that Grimes has beaten him. She confronts Grimes who has come to take the boy to work. Ellen and Peter argue.
The congregation asks Ellen what happened. Ellen argues that she and Grimes only wanted the best for the boy. The villagers suspect the worst and go to Grimes to see the boy.
Auntie, the two nieces and Ellen stay behind. Act 2 · Scene II · Hunt
Grimes gets the boy ready to go fishing. He wants to get a good catch today. Grimes is dreaming again about a house, shop, marriage to Ellen and his own children. When he hears the villagers coming, he mistrusts the boy, suspecting that he and Ellen have betrayed him.
Peter flees with the boy from the approaching crowd, and kills him.
The villagers see that Grimes’ household is well-kept and leave again. Act 3 · Scene I · Revue
Individual scenes show Swallow who wants to seduce one of the nieces. Mrs. Sedley speaks to Keene. She smells a crime. She suspects Grimes of killing the boy. The vicar and other men leave. They wish each other goodnight. Ellen and Balstrode find the boy’s pullover. They want to find Grimes so they can perhaps help him. Mrs. Sedley does not give up until Mr. Swallow has the men called together to look for Grimes and the child. The villagers want Grimes to pay for his crime. Act 3 · Scene II · Execution
Ellen and Balstrode come upon Grimes who is talking to himself. Ellen wants to take him home but Peter does not hear her. Balstrode advises Grimes to kill himself. The villagers realize that Grimes has gone. He is too far away to help now.