Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Turn of the Screw

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.


Anonymous said...

Greetings-- I was Miss Jessel in this production, and thought I'd let you know about the mic usage. The original plan was to use mics for Miles, Quint and Jessel. For the "ghosts," it was for sound manipulation only, not amplification; they thought it would be good to have Miles amplified, and while he was definitely a strong treble, I think it worked fine-- he was not over-amplified at all, and it brought his level closer to the adult voices. As for us two, they decided to cut my mic, and leave Quint's-- they did some fancy business with his voice sort of moving about the hall, and I understand that was fairly eerie. Also, they added a bit of reverb in some spots, e.g. his final statements. Having heard the original Britten/Pears recording, I can say that it was very similar to what they'd done with the recording-- and that was something like 1955!

So-- Thomas G. was definitely NOT amplified, and wouldn't have needed it in that very nice hall. The mic was only for "sound design." Funny how humiliating it can feel to be seen to be wearing one, though-- I know I've felt that on occasions when I've had to wear one, and felt it unnecessary.

You may have noticed other added sound design elements: giggling, wind and bird chirping (although I thought that might have been done with a mechanical bird call-- never did find out).

Dr.B said...

Don't you just love the internet! This is all quite fascinating.

Dr.B said...

There is a credit in the program for Sound Design David Whitaker. Perhaps I should have mentioned him.

Another curiosity in the program is this sentence: "This production is dedicated to Marcel Marceau." There was definitely much more than the usual amount of pantomime.