The Turn of the Screw


CINCINNATI OPERA (1999) | PORTLAND OPERA (2009)

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THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Benjamin Britten, based on the novella by Henry James
Conductor:
Christian Arming, Christopher Larkin
Cast: Chilcott/Harris, Tinsley/Forst, Piper/McPherson, Parry/Phillips, Dennison/Meo, Blitch-Wiper/Harvey
Production: P. Werner (scenery/clothes), T. C. Hase (lighting), J. Geier (hair/make-up)
photos courtesy of Cory Weaver & Philip Groshong

“Portland Opera ventured into the grim psychological territory of Britten’s Turn of the Screw with much success. An exceptional cast, led by Brenda Harris as the Governess, captured the emotional turmoil with incisive singing and acting. Nicholas Muni, who created the original concept of this production for Cincinnati Opera, marvellously left the story in its labyrinth of ambiguity. Brendan Tuohy sang the Prologue impeccably, and he looked like a Miles who had grown up rather than died, which was sort of spooky in its own way. All of the principals sang with precise diction. In Muni’s deft direction, the erotic undercurrent in the story was accented several times, but never crossed the line. The oversized chess set near the front of the stage was an excellent metaphor for a drama in which all the main characters relentlessly try to checkmate one another.”
- James Bash, London OPERA (August, 2009)

“Hands down, it’s the creepiest thing I’ve seen Portland Opera do. Probably the creepiest thing they’ve ever done. Shadows, piercing spotlights, silent figures, silhouettes and lots of black and red create an Edgar Allen Poe-like feel to a drawing room in rural England. Thomas Hase’s lighting was fabulous, a big factor in the show’s creep factor. But praise to director Nicholas Muni for not pulling his punches. While he preserves Henry James’ original ambiguities over the ghostly presences of Quint and Miss Jessel, he makes clear the emotional damage of childhood sexual abuse. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wanted to look away as Miles proffered a kiss to the Governess, then lay back on the bed, inviting her to join him. I could feel people around me recoiling. You can’t watch “Turn of the Screw” without asking the question, who turns the screw?”
- David Stabler, The Oregonian (February, 2009)

“Portland Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’ borrows Hollywood scare tactics—elements like cloak-and-dagger chiaroscuro lighting and children behaving supernaturally—and the result is frankly chilling. This production is sure to engage even those ordinarily left cold by opera. It’s suspenseful, visually interesting and sexually charged. Further, it demonstrates that stylized singing and visceral fear are not incompatible.”
- John Minervini, The Swag Rag (February, 2009)

“‘The Turn of the Screw': Would this small-scale piece — with a cast of six, an orchestra of 13 and a story that relies not on events so much as on a sense of dread–be big enough for the main stage? Friday night’s opener answered with a resounding “yes”: It was a musically compelling, satisfyingly unsettling night of theater. Nicholas Muni’s staging preserved the opera’s essential ambiguities — about whether the specters are real to anyone but the Governess, and about the essential nature of the children — and incorporated just enough action to prevent stasis, without needlessly busy motion.”
- James McQuillen, The Oregonian (January, 2009)

“Sold-out houses and enthusiastic audiences greeted striking new productions of Don Giovanni and The Turn of the Screw. Nicholas Muni, now in his second full season as artistic director, has revitalized Cincinnati Opera, energizing audiences and producing handsome productions with fine dramatic sensibilities while maintaining Cincinnati’s tradition of musical excellence. New to Cincinnati was Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. Designer Peter Werner placed all the action within a huge circular room with walls of red moiré and a large central door of black wood. Werner’s costumes were high Victorian. A striking concept was dressing the ghosts in the same red moiré as the room, allowing them to blend in or seem to ooze out of the walls, as if captive to the house in which they had lived. Another original concept was to place much of the blame for the tragedy on the children’s usually unseen Guardian, mimed during the opera’s prologue. Muni underplayed much of the sexual nature of the piece but brilliantly maintained the ambiguity of the story, suggesting sympathy for all the characters, even the ghosts. Forty servants, male and female, were curiously effective as a kind of silent Greek chorus.”
Charles Parsons, Opera News (September, 1999)

“I know nothing of evil, yet I feel is, I fear it, worse—imagine it.” It was theater of the highest order: director Nicholas Muni caught the heart-stopping drama of Henry James’ novella with gripping intensity, aided by arresting visual effects. In a work that needs good actors as much as good singers, the ensemble cast was stunning. Mr. Muni had the audience of 3,041 transfixed. He downplayed the work’s sexual undercurrent and created an eerie unfolding of events, allowing the psychological aspects to come through without distorting them. Much like reading Mr. James’ novella, at the end, one was left wondering who was really responsible for the tragedy.”
Janelle Gelfand, The Cincinnati Enquirer (July, 1999)

“Directed by Nicholas Muni, Cincinnati Opera’s “The Turn of the Screw” which opened on Thursday night, does full justice to James’s interpretive complexity. With a sterling cast, headed by soprano Susan Chilcott, it’s an allusion-rich, multiple-choice experience, with no wrong answers. And there are plenty of questions: Muni loads the psychological dice in the opening scene, depicting the children’s guardian as a Harley street dandy who dazzled, then dismisses the Governess, directing her never to bother him about them. The supernatural takes hold in scene eight, where the ghosts literally come out of the woodwork.”
Mary Ellyn Hutton, The Cincinnati Post (August, 1999)

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