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Поворот of the Screw

Ionarts contributor Oksana Khadarina continues her series of postcards from St. Petersburg. See the first in the series, on the Balanchine ballets at the Mariinsky Theater.

Two days after the Châteauville Foundation presented Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (see Jens's review), the Mariinsky Opera was turning its own screw in St. Petersburg (see Ionarts press roundup). This production is only the second Britten opera offered by the Mariinsky to the Russian audience, having until then staged only Peter Grimes in 1965, sung in Russian, as required at that time by the Soviet regime.

British producer David McVicar and set and costume designer Tanya McCallin achieved a gloomy atmosphere of the Bly mansion and chilling dramatic effects of the mysterious events with minimal and simple decorations. With the signature blue silk-and-velvet curtain with golden embroideries removed, the stage looked ominously dark and enigmatic, wrapped in black fabric and covered with dead autumn leaves. The characters were dressed in black – as though in constant mourning; set changes were accompanied by moving transparent wall panels bringing the action from one room to another and from inside the house to the outside. Intended or not, the sound of the moving walls reminded me of the sound of a giant mechanism that was turning an invisible screw tighter and tighter with the story unfolding from one scene to the next.

Yekaterina Soloviova brought the personality, drama, and humanity in her expressively, passionately sung role as the Governess. She definitely lacked that Mary Poppins charm (thankfully – quite inappropriate in this opera), looked elegant and graceful in her “strict” black gown. Tenor Andrei Ilushnikov with impressively rich and full voice filled out the role of the menacing Peter Quint. Milena Cotliar was very convincing as the dreadful Ms. Jessel, while Yekaterina Reimkho shone as a gentle yet rebellious Flora. Special mention is deserved by young Nikolai Irvi as Miles, a pupil at St. Petersburg’s Glinka Choral School, who sang his very demanding role with a beautiful clear voice and considerable confidence.

Also on Ionarts:

Jens F. Laurson, A Merciless, Glorious Turn of the Screw (May 25, 2006)

Charles T. Downey, Turn of the Screw (May 2, 2006)
The select few of the Mariinsky orchestra, led by Pavel Smelkov, added up to a great chamber ensemble playing Britten’s haunting melodies with exquisite tone and color. The audience was utterly captivated by the nerve-wrenching events unfolding on stage. Even though the tragic end was anticipated from the beginning, no one was prepared for the emotional intensity of the final scene of the opera: the Governess holding in her arms the lifeless body of Miles and reprising his lament “Malo, malo” (I wish, I wish), which in this context sounded like a prayer. When the curtain fell, the theater was quiet as if in a moment of silence, before the storm-like applause broke over the cast and artistic team.


Mark Barry said...

Beautiful photos, the stage seems huge.

Oksana Khadarina said...

Night photography has never been my strong point... but thank you, Mark, for your kind words.

Indeed, the stage looks enormous, probably because it was almost empty.