Benjamin Britten triumphs in San Francisco

Benjamin Britten triumphs in San Francisco

When Peter Grimes "is at his exercise," boys die.

The title character of Benjamin Britten's first and best-known opera is a social outcast in a claustrophobic fishing village on the raw British coast. A violent visionary, Grimes is abusive toward his young assistants, his actions tell us. He is not a bad man, Britten's remarkable music tells us.

The questions "Peter Grimes" poses are sizable. At what point does society turn an individual into a psychopath? At what point does empathy become iniquitous? Operatic calculus cannot, perhaps, solve these most complex of moral equations, but it can help.

Over the weekend, the San Francisco...