Britten was quoted as describing Grimes as "a subject very close to my heart—the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual." It was and continues to be a story dramatically open to interpretation: was Grimes responsible for the deaths of his apprentices? Was he sexually molesting them? Or was he an innocent, persecuted by closed-minded villagers? Is Grimes victim or villain? Whether one prefers Pears or Vickers, the opera remains relentlessly intense - from the first bars through the famous, haunting "sea interludes," one knows that this will not end well.
From 1981, here is Jon Vickers in his final dramatic scene. Note the crisp enunciation of the English lyrics - a trademark of Britten's operas.