Archive for March, 2013

Ambiguous Insanity in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw
March 2, 2013

New York City Opera @ Brooklyn Academy of Music
Thursday, February 28, 2013
7:30 p.m.

Benjamin Britten – The Turn of the Screw

Jayce Ogren, Conductor

Henry James’s novella, The Turn of the Screw, offers itself to interpretation both as a the tale of a madwoman and as a true ghost story. Under the direction of Sam Buntrock, New York City Opera’s production carefully and elegantly maintains the mystery.

The indeterminacy begins when the Governess (Sara Jakubiak) sees a figure — or is it an apparition? — through the window. The Governess’s description reminds Mrs. Grose (Sharmay Musacchio) of the former valet, Peter Quint (Dominic Armstrong), now deceased.

When the Governess takes Flora (Lauren Worsham) to play by the lake, it is unclear if the child sees the same ghostly figure that the Governess sees: the former governess, Miss Jessel (Jennifer Good Cooper), who died with Peter Quint’s unborn child.

Flora denies she saw anything, but exhibits odd outbursts of aggression. Is she repressing the trauma, or is she acting like the spoiled child she is, only to be transformed in the insane Governess’s eyes into a little girl possessed by an evil spirit?

For each scene, lighting designer David Weiner creates an eerie mood with various-sized orbs of light, lowered and raised slowly, dangling ominously from long cords rising out of sight.

Even the ending gives no clear answers. After Miles (Benjamin P. Wenzelberg) collapses in the Governess’s arms after an encounter with Peter Quint, another boy, dressed exactly as Miles, opens the upstairs door and walks out onto the landing.

Does the shock of seeing a ghost kill Miles, whose own ghost will haunt the Governess? Or, has the actual Miles stumbled upon the Governess who has hallucinated the entire episode?

The delicious ambiguity is at the heart of James’s novella and of NYCO’s production.

Jakubiak’s strong and confident voice gave the performance a stable center around which the unknown and undecided could revolve.

Except for Musacchio, whose lowest notes are warm caramel, Jakubiak was the only one who had the power to project when not very far downstage. The hall was too large for the chamber setting and for the child voices.

As the only adult male voice, Armstrong fills an integral space in the tonal landscape. He handled the role with dramatic nerve, but his glissandi where unconvincing.

Worsham’s and Wenzelberg’s performances were overwhelming, uncanny, all but infecting the audience with the same madness the Governess’s suffers — seeing what was not there.

The thirty-year-old Worsham inhabited the body of a young girl, frolicking and pestering her brother. In the second act, as Miles plays the keyboard, Wenzelberg mimics what the pianist in the pit is playing. His precision made the illusion real, as if his fingers were holding the puppet strings that controlled the orchestra.

Britten’s orchestration sets the ill-omened tone. For example in the beginning, Britten juxtaposes the Governess’s self-reassuring optimism against the dark, spectral chords in the strings. Britten’s opera, however, offers few memorable melodic lines. Even the imagination, expression, and intensity of the orchestration cannot hide that weakness.

The short run (four performances) ended today, Saturday, March 2, at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in the Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217.