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Washington Classical Review » Blog Archive » Opera Baltimore goes to a specific site with a mixed and lordly “turn of the nut”

Colleen Daly as Housekeeper in Britten’s the turn of the screw, presented by the Baltimore Opera. Photo: Kiirstn Pagan/Opera Baltimore

Opera Baltimore, formerly known as Baltimore Concert Opera, featured Benjamin Britten screw turn Friday night at the Garret-Jacobs Mansion in Mount Vernon, now home to the Engineers Club. Despite the constraints of a semi-stage performance, strong vocal performances left much to enjoy in this presentation of one of Britten’s most haunting creations.

The 1954 chamber opera dramatizes Henry James’ 1898 gothic horror novel about a young governess brought to a mansion by the absent guardian of the children Miles and Flora. Alone with the children and the manor’s aging housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper descends into growing hysteria as she encounters the evil spirits of the estate’s former valet and housekeeper, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. The story invites multiple interpretations, whether real supernatural events or the delusions of the governess.

Britten’s inventive score incorporates a wide range of elements, from nods to atonality (in the tone row that serves as the theme throughout the piece) to excerpts from folk songs and church music. Anglican and vocal writing of bravery. Britten and librettist Myfanwy Piper fully realize the spirits as singing characters, while preserving the elements of doubt in the story and leaving the audience wondering what we are witnessing.

For that screw turn, Opera Baltimore took a “semi-scenic” approach, relying on the mansion’s gilded ballroom space to add visual excitement. But the semi-stage approach brings its own challenges compared to the concert format, as seen here.

Director Catrin Davies found interesting occasional uses of space, especially in the supernatural sequences. Still, much of the action was simply staged on the small band stage at the end of the ballroom, leaving long stretches that inevitably looked a bit like a school play or in the church, despite the professionals on stage.

Where the constraints of a traditional concert format can free singers to invest more in their vocal performance, the semi-staged approach seemed to make the actors more cautious at times, especially in the first act, where they had to navigate awkward blocks and transitions. a cramped space. Lacking the cues of a fully staged production or the clarity of a concert setting, the cast also struggled to converge on a common dramatic level.

Colleen Daly, as the unnamed housekeeper, was slow to find her groove during the slow-burning first act, with tensions in the upper register and a few challenges bringing the character’s solo scenes to life. Act 2 found her much more at ease, displaying a cool and striking soprano voice in the soliloquy of the governess’ fascinating moments, desperate for Flora’s turn against her and her final exchange with Miles.

As Mrs. Grose, Annie Chester’s brilliant mezzo shone in scenes like the Act I exchange where she recounts the mansion’s backstory, though ultimately it seemed like a limited characterization by compared to some of the other stage performances.

With the arrival of the spirits of Quint and Miss Jessel near the end of Act 1, Britten introduces a whole new set of lyrical musical ideas, offsetting the low-key dread and frozen national procedurals we’ve seen so far. .

Norman Shankle and Amanda Sheriff brought a dizzying level of commitment to this music, breathing new life and direction into the production. Shankle’s tenor soared through Quint’s rising vocal lines, delivering a thrilling and elegant vocal performance, while Sherrif delivered a malevolent Miss Jessel filled with menacing physique, her focused soprano sweeping across the room in the music of high flight of Jessel.

The Children of Turn of the Screw are performed with a grown-up soprano as Flora and a high-pitched, youthful voice as Miles. Here, soprano Robin Steitz did much of the role of Flora, bringing a fully realized physical performance and careful attention to the vocal characterization of the child’s enigmatic moods, while Miles was softly sung by Brynn Blair.

Joy Schreier had the herculean task of playing the entire score on the piano, in a dynamic reading that preserved much of the drama of the music, while necessarily sacrificing some of the atmosphere produced by the full chamber orchestra. Conductor Michael Sakir skillfully managed the coordination between the piano and the singers.

The turn of the screw will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday. operabaltimore.org

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