Sunday, May 27, 2012
Julia Teitel (L) Anna Noggle (R)
A riveting performance of Benjamin Britten's 1954 chamber opera Turn of the Screw was presented last night at Symphony Space by the innovative young company Opera Moderne. The libretto my Myfanwy Piper, based on the 1898 novella of the same name by Henry James, concerns a naive young woman employed by the owner of Bly House to care for his niece and nephew, Flora and Miles; she is instructed never to abandon them, never to ask about the history of the house and never to bother him. The groundwork for this gothic tale has been laid--and who doesn't love a good ghost story!
The ghosts involved are Peter Quint, a former valet, and the former governess Miss Jessel. The newly employed Governess can see the ghosts; the housekeeper Mrs. Grose cannot; we are never sure about Miles and Flora. Still, it is undeniable that something is up with the two children who behave strangely. There seems to be a battle between evil and innocence; there are hints of pederasty in the past. Have the children been corrupted? Literary scholars have argued the point of whether all this is taking place in reality or in the mind of the Governess.
Soprano Anna Noggle, fetchingly attired in late 19th c. style, sang the role of the Governess with brilliant quality of tone and apt phrasing; her acting was flawless and scored high in believability. Mezzo Julia Teitel handed in a fine performance as Mrs. Grose. Tenor Glenn Seven Allen lent his fine tenor to the role of Peter Quint and was absolutely chilling in his interpretation; mezzo Elspeth Davis made a scary Miss Jessel.
And what can one say about the treble voice of the supremely talented Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg who brought Miles to life in a most convincing fashion! Flora was well sung by soprano Vivian Krich-Brinton who almost convinced us that she was a child.
Director Luke Leonard took many risks in staging this work. At times the action took place behind the onstage orchestra, but mostly in front; somehow this worked. The interaction between the characters always felt motivated. Actors with faces swathed in black doubled the ghosts. We are not fond of explications of what creators intended and believe that ultimately it is the effect on the audience that matters. Since we had goosebumps for two hours we can safely say that the production was effective. Much value was contributed by the lighting design of Marie Yokoyama and the costume design by Angela Huff which put us right into the appropriate epoch. Although we found some of the sculptures by Maggie Hartzell perplexing we are sure that those in the audience who love symbolism had a good time figuring them out.
Conductor and Music Director Pacien Mazzagatti elicited a fine reading of the score from his thirteen musicians. Those who are familiar with our musical taste will know that 20th c. music is not our favorite due to a preference for melodic vocal lines. In spite of this, we found the music most interesting from the standpoint of the textures of the orchestration; we particularly loved the use of chimes, harp and winds in the creation of an atmosphere of suspense. It was a rare instance of our experiencing 20th c. music as contributing to the drama.
We are impressed with the way Executive Director Rebecca Greenstein has pulled together all the necessary elements to create an unforgettable work that definitely deserves a longer run than the single night it was accorded. The house was packed and opinions were as enthusiastic as ours was. People will be talking about this one for some time to come. We wish Opera Moderne the very best of luck with next season's productions. This will be a tough act to follow!
(c) meche kroop