OPERA NEWS - The Turn of the Screw
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In Review > North America

The Turn of the Screw

Seattle Opera

In Review Seattle Opera Turn lg 119
Elizabeth Caballero and Forrest Wu at Seattle Opera
© Philip Newton

SEATTLE OPERA'S superb new production of The Turn of the Screw sustained the ambiguity and dramatic tension of Benjamin Britten’s music drama, thanks to stage director Peter Kazaras, conductor Constantin Trinks, a thirteen-musician ensemble and an excellent cast of six (seen Oct. 13 and 14). Near the beginning of the show, Kazaras devised one particularly creepy staging touch: uncomfortably close to the Governess on the train to Bly were two mysterious figures, who were revealed as Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, the former governess and her paramour, on their way to haunt the Governess and perhaps her young charges, Flora and Miles. Near the end of the opera, the Governess pressured Miles to name and thus exorcise the figure she saw as his tormentor: “Who do you wait for, watch for?” We waited for and watched for his glance as he finally exclaimed, “Peter Quint, you devil!” From the set’s upper level, above Quint and the Governess, Miles might easily have directed “you devil!” down at either of them, but he glanced upward. Her “Together we have destroyed him” and “What have we done between us?” maintained their ambiguity and irony. Kazaras seemed to misstep when Miles collapsed, a closing panel hid a double replacing his body, and he reappeared downstage, standing tall. This, too, was ambiguous and kept us thinking: perhaps a Miles as dead/alive as Quint might further turn the screw.

Scenic designer Robert Dahlstrom transformed his 2007 Don Giovanni set, a wall with doors on the lower and panels on the upper level, into a more versatile one with retractable stairs. It served as screen for Adam Larsen’s atmospheric, musically sensitive projections—a train station, the mansion at Bly, fluttering foliage, a Gothic church, a gaunt oak or maple, a wall with Owen Wingrave-like ancestor portraits.

Elizabeth Caballero’s Governess was sympathetic and deeply moving, with a voice of tears at such phrases as “Oh why, why did I come?” and “Sir, dear Sir, my dear Sir.” Addressing and determined to fight for the children, she bent slightly toward their height, subtly (or unwittingly?) suggesting a martyr with a weight on her shoulders or even a tenacious, crouching boxer; it was a relief to see her erect and relaxed at her curtain call. 

As the Narrator and Peter Quint, Benjamin Bliss sang with exceptional beauty, clarity and purity that more than anything else linked Quint to Miles. The largest voice was that of Marcy Stonikas, whose Miss Jessel was a magnificent, harrowing ruin of a young woman. As Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, Maria Zifchak exuded authority and sang with great force. As with all the best Floras, one knew perfectly well that Soraya Mafi was an adult but kept forgetting the fact, because she was so convincingly girlish. Miles was double-cast with boys: England’s Rafi Bellamy Plaice, an accomplished singer with a solo CD, sang with sweetness and impeccable pitch; Seattle’s Forrest Wu had leaner tone, fine diction and moved well onstage.

Trinks sometimes chose tempos just slow enough to push tension toward the breaking point. Percussionist Matthew Decker’s thundering timpani and virtuoso bells stood out. —Mark Mandel

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