Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

Cast announced for Bampton Classical Opera's 2017 production of Salieri's The School of Jealousy

Following highly successful UK premières of Salieri’s Falstaff (in 2003) and Trofonio’s Cave (2015), this summer Bampton Classical Opera will present the first UK performances since the late 18th century of arguably his most popular success: the bitter comedy of marital feuding, The School of Jealousy (La scuola de’ gelosi). The production will be designed and directed by Jeremy Gray and conducted by Anthony Kraus from Opera North. The English translation will be by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. The cast includes Nathalie Chalkley (soprano), Thomas Herford (tenor) and five singers making their Bampton débuts:, Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano), Kate Howden (mezzo-soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Matthew Sprange (baritone) and Samuel Pantcheff (baritone). Alessandro was the joint winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Competition 2016.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Handel's Partenope: surrealism and sensuality at English National Opera

Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a lesson in Patience

A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.

Tara Erraught: mezzo and clarinet in partnership at the Wigmore Hall

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.

Opera Across the Waves

This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful producers of opera.

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):