B. Britten, The Turn of the Screw, Britten / Pears, Vyvyan
B. Britten, The Turn of the Screw, Harding / Bostridge, Rodgers
B. Britten, The Turn of the Screw, Bedford / Langridge, Lott
Britten’s Turn of the Screw is a fantastic opera – for chamber forces, three sopranos, tenor, and boy and girl soprano – but also a difficult opera and not likely to appeal to everyone. All those who attended the Châteauville Foundation production at the Terrace Theater knew what they were in for: a dense, chilling, creepy, and creeping psychological thriller set to haunting music that matches the action (or unbearable inaction) every step of the way.
I cannot recall the last time I had – literally – chills from head to toe. Here I did, when Miles, the boy, musters his courage, acknowledges the evil done to him, and cries out against his tormentor, the (molesting) spirit: “Peter Quint, you devil.” It was but one highlight among many. The cast was very even, very good – even superb. Primus inter pares was the outstanding tenor Jeffrey Lentz (excellent diction, haunting singing, good acting) as former manservant cum ghost Peter Quint. Michelle Rice as housekeeper Mrs. Grose had a marvelous, rich voice; Anne Dreyer was a very attractively chirruping and well-acted Governess, if with less clear diction than the rest. Miss Jessel, the former governess, now haunting Chez Bly (the uncle of the children Flora and Miles) in tandem with opponent/partner in crime Peter Quint was dramatic and ethereal in equal parts, sung by Valerie Komar. Tucker Fisher (Miles) and Jessica Moore (Flora) acted and sang their parts as well as one can imagine; just towards the very end of the opera did one hear the strain on little Mr. Fisher’s soprano. But at that point, drama and acting are more important – and they both were delivered spectacularly.
The opera's story by Henry James was adapted with sly and cunning skill by Myfanwy Piper. It combines the entertainment (albeit a very dark, scary entertainment) of a Broadway show with the quality of the finest literature, compelling the viewer/listener along with music that becomes a soundtrack (but none of the negative associations of “soundtrack” whatsoever) of the most haunting sort. Unforgivingly, the story of the hidden torture that the kids have to endure plows ahead. By the end, the opera has the audience in its palm and we allow it to crush us, willingly. Neither goosebumps nor chills were caused by the air conditioning.
Tim Page, Young Singers Take A 'Turn' for the Better (Washington Post, May 21)
Charles T. Downey, Turn of the Screw (DCist, May 23)
Philip Kennicott, Maazel & Co. Make Impressive 'Turn' (Washington Post, May 24)
T. L. Ponick, 'Screw' a tricky vocal turn (Washington Times, May 24)
Tim Smith, Maazel, performers' 'Turn' with Britten is remarkable (Baltimore Sun, May 25)
After this utterly moving experience, parents of small children will have been tempted to set up watch at their youngsters' bed; opera lovers meanwhile cannot wait to be granted another such gift from Maazel and his Châteauville Foundation. Indeed, the event just screamed out for the opportunity to hear other chamber or Baroque operas in the Terrace Theater with its very fine acoustic. Less expensive productions for the cognoscenti – Hindemith, Menotti, Blacher, Martinů, Glass, Henze next to Rameau, Lully or Scarlatti – would enrich the cultural life in Washington immensely. Whether that will remain a pipe-dream or not, the memory of this Turn of the Screw will remain something to feast on for a while.