• Turn of the Screw at Central City Opera

    Some operas can only have been written by a specific composer. One can speculate on what a Donizetti La Sonnambula or a Paisiello Nozze would sound like, but other works – say, Pelleas et Melisande or Salome seem so wedded to their composer's style that one can't imagine it any other way. Benjamin Britten's Turn of the Screw is such an opera, by turns minimalist and atonal. An unsettling, restless tone pervades the score and serves to underscore the libretto's ghost story.

    Turn of the Screw is in some ways a tale of two operas, with the first half devoted to slowly and carefully building suspense before a raucous second half where the orchestra and singers are unleashed. As the prologue narrator, Vale Rideout does a great job of setting the mood. With all eyes on him, he confidently delivers his lines with excellent diction to the orchestra's minimal accompaniment.

    As the Governess, Sinead Mulhern is completely invested in her part, reacting to events on stage with an actor's instinct. Her voice is bright and forward in placement and if a bit weaker in diction than Mr. Rideout, it is never difficult to understand. Her counterpart in the home is the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, sung by Maria Zifchak. Ms. Zifchak is a frequent performer at the Met in various comprimario roles, and given a larger role at Central City she does not disappoint. Her mezzo-soprano voice is lovely and warm, big yet subtle.


    Copyright © 2012 Central City Opera. All rights reserved. Used with authorization.
    Central City Opera’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW (2012). Pictured L to R: Alisa Suzanne Jordheim (Flora), Sinéad Mulhern (Governess), John Healy (Miles). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.

    Turn of the Screw can be a risky opera in that a substantial role is played by a child, but John Healy does a fantastic job as Miles, his treble always sweet and clear, and if his acting is a bit stiff it does not detract from the overall impression. He sings with emotion and confidence and is a treat to the ear.

    Indeed, the rest of the cast had voices just as good. Alisa Suzanne Jordheim (Flora) has a gorgeous soprano voice and the looks to match and is magnetic on-stage, every bit as comfortable acting as singing. Rebecca Nash as Miss Jessel has a smaller role but sings with enthusiasm and gives her role the menacing edge it requires.


    Copyright © 2012 Central City Opera. All rights reserved. Used with authorization.
    Central City Opera’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW (2012). Pictured in Silhouette L to R: John Healy (Miles), Vale Rideout (Peter Quint ), Rebecca Nash (Miss Jessel), Alisa Suzanne Jordheim (Flora). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.

    Turn of the Screw offers the directors a great canvas on which to paint their vision; they can choose to present the ghosts as real or not and how clear to make it to the audience. Director Alessandro Talevi does not commit one way or the other; along with Madeleine Boyd as the scene designer and David Jacques as lighting designer, they create an unsettling tapestry of light and shadow that is psychologically effective, though perhaps too intermittent. A minute of silhouttes cavorting about on the backdrop will be followed by long periods without. It's interesting but using these methods more frequently would have been more effective. That said, there are many effectively creepy images, with an odd, nearly featureless rocking horse being my favorite.

    One scene where the staging fell a bit flat for me was in the seduction scene, where Peter Quint (also played by Mr. Rideout) and Miss Jessel recruit the children. Yes, there is plenty of menacing about in the background by the two, but it never felt as seductive or threatening as it could.


    Copyright © 2012 Central City Opera. All rights reserved. Used with authorization.
    Central City Opera’s THE TURN OF THE SCREW (2012). Pictured Front to Back: Alisa Suzanne Jordheim (Flora), Vale Rideout (Peter Quint). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.


    Act 2 is where the conductor and orchestra really get to shine, and they shine very brightly indeed. From the haunting, wailing violins to start the act to the harp featured a bit later to the fantastically driving and agitated piano that Miles “plays” for Mrs. Grose, all are splendidly effective at cramping up the tension.

    Central City has another great production on its hands, with a cast and orchestra that present Britten's opera at its best.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Great review, Ian. Can you ask them for production pictures?
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      This is the quintessential Britten's opera, indeed.
    1. SMErin's Avatar
      SMErin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
      Great review, Ian. Can you ask them for production pictures?
      Central City Opera's production photos are available online at http://www.centralcityopera.org/photos.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by SMErin View Post
      Central City Opera's production photos are available online at http://www.centralcityopera.org/photos.
      Thank you SMErin, and welcome to Opera Lively, we're glad to have you. I'll add some of the pictures. We're happy to support Central City Opera.


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