Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Cheryl Barker (as Miss Jessel a former governess) and Michael Colvin (as Peter Quint a former man-servant) [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of the English National Opera]
26 Oct 2009

The Turn of the Screw at ENO

Shadows and reflections flicker and dart alarmingly across Tanya McCallin’s dark, gloomy sets for David McVicar’s The Turn of the Screw, first seen in 2007, in a disturbing production that chillingly conveys both infinite mystery and claustrophobic terror.

Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw

Governess: Rebecca Evans; Mrs Grose: Ann Murray; Peter Quint/Narrator: Michael Colvin; Miss Jessel: Cheryl Barker; Flora: Nazan Fikret; Miles: Charlie Manton. Director: David McVicar. Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras. English National Opera, London Coliseum. Thursday 22nd October 2009.

Above: Cheryl Barker (as Miss Jessel a former governess) and Michael Colvin (as Peter Quint a former man-servant)

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of the English National Opera

 

‘You see, I’m bad, aren’t I?’ declares Miles, teasingly, at the end of Act 1. Indeed. The ‘evil’ which James desires that his readers should merely ‘imagine’ is unambiguously paraded before our eyes by McVicar: the children romp riotously in a frenzied nursery scene; Quint glints malevolently from the Tower, and brazenly challenges a hysterical Governess; Miss Jessel wails with bitter fury, grasping at Flora in a desperate bid for Quint’s attention; the Governess rampantly suffocates the children she professes to protect.

the_turn_of_the_screw011.pngCheryl Barker (as Miss Jessel a former governess) and Nazan Fikret (as Flora)

The dimly-lit stage suggests first the cold, charmless recesses of Bly, then the eerie expanse of the gardens and lake, as filmy, translucent screens shimmer back and forth, brushed evocatively by Adam Silverman’s subtle lighting. The occasional gleam glances on an iron bedstead, an ancient piano, a painted rocking horse, as McVicar assembles an authentically Victorian domestic world, faithfully to James’ original setting. In the shadows, servants scurry back and forth, their reflections caught in the rolling panes, hinting at other presences and snatched visions. Aware of the critical debates concerning James’ ambiguous novella, Britten declared that he wanted ‘real’ ghosts singing ‘real’ music – no symbolic groaning and shrieking! – but, one might argue that in this production the ghosts are in fact all too real: despite the presence of the sleeping Governess during their Act 2 Colloquy, these are genuine physical beings, not imagined phantoms or indefinite apparitions.

In this unequivocally corrupted world, Mrs Grose is certainly right to fear for the safety of her charges, Flora and Miles. And this was a magnificent performance by Dame Anne Murray, whose lyrical, eloquent cries convincingly conveyed the housekeeper’s heartfelt anxiety, motherly love and tremulous fear for the children’s welfare. In the ‘Letter Scene’, Murray’s clear, focused lines powerfully demonstrated her genuine concern when Miles is dismissed from his school; although the appearance of Quint’s uncanny celeste motif hints at the cause of Miles disgrace, Murray’s outpouring of relief that the Governess shares her faith that Miles cannot be truly ‘bad’ was truly touching.

Despite rather woolly diction, the Welsh soprano Rebecca Evans went from strength to strength as the performance progressed. The occasional ‘catch’ in the voice was evident in the opening scene, marring for example her telling line ‘O why did I come?’; but as her confidence grew she produced some beautiful, floating curves in the upper register, subtly lingering, abstractedly, and perfectly conveying the deluded romanticism of a dreamer whose unworldliness proves more dangerous than the actual horrors she imagines. Transfigured by a single beam of light, Evans’ final, chilling wail, over the body of the dead Miles was both poignant and emotionally piercing.

Cheryl Barker (as Miss Jessel a former governess), Rebecca Evans (as The Governess), Nazan Fikret (as Flora) and Ann Murray (as Mrs Grose the housekeeper)

The dual role of the Narrator/Quint was performed by tenor Michael Colvin. He projected well in the Prologue, carelessly flickering through the pages of the manuscript which holds that tale, his confident, warm voice aptly conveying the nonchalance, bordering on neglect, of the handsome guardian, and also foreshadowing the seductive charm of Peter Quint himself. Quint’s first vocal utterance, his unearthly nocturnal appeal in Scene 8, ‘At Night’, slyly crept in, oozing bitter-sweet charm and building to a commanding, hypnotic plea. However, Colvin did not always capture vocally either the pernicious seductiveness or menacing malevolence of the presumptuous valet. Certainly his actions leave little room for doubt: he whips the bed clothes from the sleeping boy’s bed, lures and urges him to embrace ‘freedom’. But, it was not until the Act 2 battle between Quint and the Governess that Colvin captured the truly forceful note of desperate evil as he implored Miles to steal the letter. Cheryl Barker, as Miss Jessel, was equally compelling: she avoided overstatement and dramatic extremes, balancing menace with lyricism, indicative both of her spurned love for Quint and her despair at his betrayal.

Completing a superb cast, Charlie Manton as Miles and Nazan Fikret as Flora were outstanding, never overshadowed or out-sung by their professional partners. Manton’s Miles was certainly a match for any of the adults: effortlessly evading their attempts to constrain and curtail his burgeoning individuality and maturity. His ‘Malo song’ was beautiful in its innocence and purity, the intonation perfect and the words delivered with unaffected clarity, as the cor anglais twined sinuously around the haunting melody. And, the Act II piano-playing scene was expertly pulled off, as the precocious young boy convincingly mimed his way through an increasingly piquant sequence of piano pieces, thereby distracting his guardians and liberating Flora to flee to the arms of Miss Jessel. A final-year undergraduate at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Nazan Fikret is an experienced in this role, which she first sang aged twelve, and her confidence and accuracy suggest a promising talent.

Returning to conduct The Turn of the Screw in London for the first time since 1956, Sir Charles Mackerras created unstoppable musico-dramatic momentum in the pit, the sliding screens allowing him to maintain the expressive tension in the instrumental interludes, as each scene merged seamlessly into the next. This was both powerful ensemble work and impressive solo playing. Every colour and nuance was presented with precision and force; indeed, one would scarcely guess that there were only 13 players in the pit - the timpani outbursts were spine-shuddering. A curtain call presentation by current Music Director Ed Gardner to Mackerras acknowledged the latter’s achievement over 61 years, at this theatre and internationally; clearly there are no signs of a diminishing of the conductor’s dramatic insight or musical energy.

Britten’s opera is essentially an ‘intimate’, even private, work: 16 short scenes interspersed with tightly twisting instrumental variations enact a psychological drama presented by just 6 soloists accompanied by only 13 instrumentalists. Yet together, McVicar and Mackerras argued persuasively that the horrors and fears that this Jamesian tale reveals are vast and threaten us all.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):