It's not often you find yourself in the midst of an opera centered around a ghost story, and when you do, savor it. The Turn Of The Screw opened at The Dallas Opera March 17th, and it is one of the most unique and haunting operas I've ever seen. Turn of the Screw is an adapted story originally written as a gothic novella by Henry James in 1898. Britten's transformation of this story is elevated through a masterful cast and conductor combined with a fascinating rotating set design by Paul Brown.
Like many stories written by Henry James, nothing is concrete and the details are left up to the reader's interpretation. Only the children and the Governess can see the ghosts, but they are invisible to the old housekeeper Mrs.Grose. Are they figments of imagination or streaks of insanity in the Governess or truly evil beings? Nothing is explained of Peter Quint's dealings in the physical world prior to his demise, but his sexually manipulative nature is strongly suggested by disturbing scenes between him and the young boy, Miles. Ambiguity and mystery drives the story to a tragic conclusion.
English soprano Emma Bell's Governess sings beautifully, presenting an emotive performance which clearly conveys both internal and external battles. Tenor William Burden's Peter Quint is powerful and frightening, skilfully portraying a vindictive and controlling ghost. Where his performance lacks seduction, Burden makes up with a controlling delivery. Verdian mezzo Dolora Zajick's Mrs.Grose brings more strength and power than you would expect from an elderly and often fussy housekeeper. Zajick and Bell's voices blend beautifully in duets, creating a truly impressive, if small, ensemble cast. The tragic Miss Jessel is played by soprano Alexandra LoBianco, delivering an eerie performance contrasting the frightening Quint.
The haunted children, Miles and Flora, played by sopranos Oliver Nathanielsz and Ashley Emerson, were angelic yet disturbing. Nathanielsz delivers an impressive performance, combining the innocence of a boy with the aged manipulation of Quint. It's even more impressive when you consider he's just reaching his teenage years. The petite Emerson delivers a believable performance of a young girl, and anyone can imagine how difficult casting is for that role!
Set and costume design by Paul Brown were both incredible, perfectly illustrating how much you can do with so little. A boxed-in stage featuring rotating furniture and a multi-use glass panel allowed flawless transition between the countless locations necessary for each scene. Much like the ambiguity of the opera itself, the set allowed the viewer to fill in the gaps, only providing the bare minimum in an elegant and mysterious way. Nicole Paiement, the Martha R. and Preston A. Peak Principal Guest Conductor, lead Britten’s enthralling twentieth-century score, mixing tonality and dissonance with the recurrent use of a twelve-note theme. Although she had the score in front of her, you rarely saw her turn a page, and the sparse 13-piece orchestra seemed like one five times its size.
This is a haunting experience that lingers long after the curtain falls, I highly recommend attending one of the upcoming showings March 22nd or March 25th. Click here for ticket information. Tickets start at just $19, and I hope you'll get a chance to see this!