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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 19, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 42
Seattle Opera goes full Hitchcock with The Turn of the Screw
Arts & Entertainment
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Seattle Opera goes full Hitchcock with The Turn of the Screw

by Alice Bloch - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE OPERA
THE TURN OF THE SCREW
BY BENJAMIN BRITTEN
LIBRETTO BY MYFANWY PIPER
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
October 14 (Sunday Night cast continues 10/20, 10/26)


Based on a horror novella by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw is an intensely troubling opera. In the fine production now playing at Seattle Opera, stage director Peter Kazaras emphasizes the disquieting nature of the drama - which takes place in an isolated English mansion haunted by ghosts, and touches on child neglect and abuse, sexual misconduct, madness, and suicide - by creating a creepy atmosphere reminiscent of the Hitchcock film Rebecca.

The basic unanswered question of the James novella is whether the ghosts are real or whether the central character, the governess, is going crazy and imagining them. The Britten opera can also be staged to focus on this question, but Kazaras opted instead to highlight the desperate situation of the orphaned, traumatized children Miles and Flora. (For more discussion, see dramaturg Jonathan Dean's smart essay 'What the Heck Is The Turn of the Screw Really About?' at seattleoperablog.com.)

Although The Turn of the Screw is a chamber opera, with a six-singer cast and a thirteen-musician orchestra, it succeeds brilliantly on the Seattle Opera mainstage. In the performance I attended, all cast members rose to the musical and dramatic challenges of the work. Boy soprano Forrest Wu as Miles sang beautifully and acted with conviction; he made the audience feel the character's confusion and suffering. (For a review of Opening Night, which featured Rafi Bellamy Plaice as Miles, see Sharon Cumberland's article in this issue.) As the Governess, soprano Elizabeth Caballero gave a fearless, highly emotional performance. Tenor Benjamin Bliss, who played the ghost of the deceased valet Peter Quint, was equally impressive; his calling out to Miles in a quiet high voice made me shiver.

The orchestra is perhaps the most important character in this opera, and conductor Constantin Trinks led a flawless performance of Britten's gorgeous, eerie score. It was a special treat to see all 13 musicians, holding their instruments, come onstage during curtain calls.

Sets designed by Robert Dahlstrom for Seattle Opera's 2014 production of Don Giovanni were skillfully repurposed to become the haunted mansion, with many doors and moving parts. Projections designed by Adam Larsen and lighting designed by Connie Yun were marvelously effective and evocative. Deborah Trout's costumes perfectly placed the opera in mid-20th-century England.

If you're thinking that this opera might be just the thing for Halloween, Seattle Opera general director Aidan Lang was thinking along the same lines. The entire audience of the closing performance on October 27 is invited to a costume party backstage. For more information and to buy tickets, go to seattleopera.org.

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