BBC Radio 3, 23 December 2012
While not strictly a "drama" - actually it was a concert performance
recorded at the Barbican Hall, this complete version of Grieg's incidental music to Ibsen's play deserved to be approached
as a dramatic piece.
What I remember most about Peer Gynt is the exchange from Willy Russell's
Educating Rita - recently rerun in Radio 4's Saturday Drama slot, where the eponymous heroine responds
with to the essay topic "How do you resolve problems of staging Ibsen's Peer Gynt?" with a one-sentence answer: "Do
it on the radio." There is a lot of truth in this statement: Ibsen's five-act verse drama blends social satire with
surrealist material, its forty scenes moving seamlessly between consciousness and unconsciousness, blending realism and folklore.
It is a physical journey, as well as a journey through the mind.
Grieg's incidental music provides an ideal way through the play. With its blend
of tones, styles and familiar themes, it (re-)captures different states of mind, while reminding us that Peer Gynt
is both a folklloric homage to Ibsen's own country as well as a penetrating study of the human mind. The score was lyrically
performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, aided by the BBC Singers and the two soloists Solveig (Miah Persson) and Anitra (Ann
Hallenberg). The dialogue from Ibsen's play was used to situate Grieg's score in its appropriate context; as delivered
by six actors from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, it had a stately quality, reminiscent of the ways in which Edwardian
actors used to deliver Shakespeare. This was a deliberate strategy, designed to avoid us thinking of the play in 'realistic'
terms, as an embodiment of our lives. We were taken on an imaginative journey into an alternative universe.
This rare opportunity to hear music and words in unison was conducted by Mark Minkowski.