Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes. Jon Vickers (Peter Grimes); Heather Harper (Ellen Orford); Jonathan Summers (Balstrode); Elizabeth Bainbridge (Auntie); Forbes Robinson (Swallow); Patricia Payne (Mrs. Sedley). Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Colin Davis.
I can't help thinking of this as Britten's greatest opera, though really what I'm thinking of is the breathtaking power of Jon Vickers' singing and acting. I've never heard the recording with Peter Pears, for whom the role was written, though I'm told that there are those who prefer Pears's interpretation, including the composer, who is said to have walked out on Vickers's performance. But no tenor that I know of had a greater control of dynamics than Vickers, who could sing with both hushed intensity and clarion brilliance. For me, he's the definitive Tristan and Siegmund and Florestan -- and Grimes. This recording, incidentally, has no libretto, but that's no real handicap -- you can find one online here.