We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Joan Hofmeyr, Britt Hewitt, Charles Sy, and Rebecca Pedersen 
(photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

 Chance Jonas-O’Toole, Anneliese Klenetsky, Charles Sy
(photo by Rosalie O'Connor)
Some riveting performances by students of Juilliard Vocal Arts Department (both graduates and undergraduates) brought to life a strange production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw.  Henry James' gothic horror novella of the turn of the 20th c. was adapted by Myfanwy Piper for Britten.

The lack of vowels in her name seems to match the dearth of melody in Britten's music. What happened to melody after Richard Strauss?  What we are left with are plays with music. As such, this one worked out as well as could be expected.  The drama held our attention and kept us guessing. The music had a great deal of color and reminded us of the atmospheric music written for film. As a matter of fact, the entire production had a filmic quality.

We have learned that the longer the Director's Notes, the more obscure the production will be. As is our wont, we don't read them until after seeing the production because we believe a work of art should speak for itself. We were not always sure what was going on in John Giampietro's confusing production and reading his notes afterward succeeded in baffling us still further. There was a great deal of symbolism which we failed to grasp.  Frankly, we prefer realistic storytelling.  We are familiar with Jungian psychology but our familiarity did not help.

Chance Jonas O'Toole colored his tenor suitably for the role of the narrator, not only introducing the action but moving furniture in and out of the unit set, a large empty period room with peeling wallpaper, a broken ceiling, and several secret panels for entrances and exits.

As the innocent (or maybe not so) Governess, soprano Anneliese Klenetsky could not have been better. One could not tell if her ghostly visions were "real" or not but it was obvious that she cared for her juvenile charges. She had the closest thing to an aria in the well sung "How beautiful it is".

As the juveniles, soprano Britt Hewitt in travesti was believable as Miles who was "bad" or else "possessed". As his sister Flora,
soprano Joan Hofmeyr was similarly effective. Their playing together was always a bit unsettling.

The two "ghosts" were remarkably portrayed. Tenor Charles Sy was chilling as Peter Quint, using voice coloration and gesture to portray pure evil.  As the prior governess Miss Jessel, soprano Rebecca Pedersen, made a strong impression. She was strangely swathed in butterflies.

As the housekeeper Mrs. Grose, soprano Katerina Burton was warm and real, the only non-puzzling onstage presence.

If we have said nothing about their voices, it is because this type of work doesn't have the long lyric lines of Italian opera that enable us to appreciate phrasing, timbre, and all that other good stuff.  Suffice it to say that their diction was uniformly superb making the titles rather unnecessary.

Alexis Distler's scenic design matched the spookiness of the story and Kate Ashton's lighting design helped immeasurably to create the mood. Audrey Nauman's costumes were suited to the period.

Maestro Steven Osgood led the chamber orchestra in a finely wrought performance. The musicians were all members of the Juilliard Orchestra. A string quartet was augmented by a double bass, a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, percussion, harp, and piano.  The winds were particularly effective, as was the harp.  Was that a celesta we heard or chimes in the Churchyard scene? It was very effective, whichever.

Given the choice of seeing this work again or reading the novella, we would probably opt for reading. There were others in the sold out house whose enthusiasm exceeded ours. The great thing about opera is that there is something for every taste. Mid 20th c. opera in English just isn't ours.

(c) meche kroop

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