If we only watch the action unfolding and don't read all that has been written about Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw, presented by the Sacramento Opera, we can't be sure what has happened. A new governess has been hired to care for Miles and Flora, two children who now live in the country with a housekeeper. Their parents are dead and they are left in the charge of an indifferent uncle.
We see that others are there, too. The governess describes seeing a man with curly red hair, and the housekeeper recognizes that this is Peter Quint come back from the dead. Peter Quint is said to have "had his way" with the children and their former governess, also now dead. This is all that is said about sex. The rest is left to our imaginations and the actions of the actors on stage. Is the new governess merely being hysterical, or has Peter Quint come back from the dead to seduce the children?
The atmosphere of creepiness and hysteria is vividly created in the fascinating score. Whatever is actually happening, we feel the same dread the governess feels.
There is reason to believe that Britten identified with the boy Miles, sung well by the boy soprano Brooks Fisher. Miles is portrayed in a virtuosic performance on the piano such as Britten himself might have shown as a child. Brooks Fisher did an excellent job of seeming to play the piano. Bravo.
The production, adapted from the New York City Opera, showed bare branches extending into the sky to create the feeling of rural isolation. There is a tower where Peter Quint ascends and descends. Pieces of furniture appear to create the scene.
It is the creepiest opera I've ever seen. The production, directed by Chuck Hudson, emphasizes the pervasive sexuality of the story.
Emily Pulley sang the governess with style and intensity. Her credits include Mimi at Covent Garden. This character carries the drama both vocally and physically, and she was well up to the task.
I have a relationship with Thomas Glenn, the lyric tenor who sang the Prologue and Peter Quint. I reviewed his Schwabacher Debut Recital for San Francisco Classical Voice. I recall comparing his voice to Peter Pears, the creator of the Peter Quint role. Glenn has acquired a bit of weight in his voice since then. I also advised him to work on his coloratura technique, and am pleased to see he has some Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti in his credits now. He is a fine singer and actor. I like him even more than I did before and hope he has much success.
My friends and I discussed the use of microphones in this production. The boy soprano needed help and cannot be faulted for getting it. There was some amplification of the off stage voices to enhance the eeriness. Is that all? We all worry that opera is going to turn into Broadway where any means possible is used to provide us with blaring orchestras and distorted voices. This group managed to keep any possible distortion well under control.
I found the general quality of this performance to be very high and definitely deserving of more attention than the half house it received.