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REVIEW: Central City Opera's 'Turn of the Screw' unearths greatness
What: Central City Opera 80th Summer Festival
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 4
Where: The Central City Opera House, 4 Eureka St., Central City
Tickets: $45-$116; 303-292-6700, centralcityopera.org
One more thing: Add on the "Turn of the Screwfest" at Central City's Teller House immediately following the July 29 performances for a paranormal, libatious and culinary experience. Cost is $30 or $60, which includes a ticket to the opera.
At its core, it's a story of child abuse by manipulative man servant and a complicit governess. And like real life abuse, the abusers continued to inhabit the thoughts, dreams and actions of the orphans in Benjamin Britten's operatic take on "The Turn of the Screw."
Based on Henry James' haunting novella from 1898, Britten's 1954 opera is regarded by many as the composer's greatest work in the genre. It received brilliant treatment by the Central City Opera as the third and final mainstage offering of its summer season.
After a brief prelude, the action follows the arrival of a new governess, who gradually begins to suspect that the forces of evil are at play at Bly House. Inspired by a spare yet succinct libretto by Myfanwy Piper, Britten forged a work that utilizes the eerie 12-tone technique pioneered by the school of Arnold Schoenberg in the early part of the 20th century. As performed by an ensemble of 13 instruments, these sounds suggest both the supernatural and the complexities of the unconcious.
Musically, the production was flawless. Mood and color were set by the small pit ensemble as conductor Steuart Bedford, a renowned Britten specialist, did not let the opera's intensity flag for an instant. All six of the principals were ideal in their vocal and dramatic renderings. Soprano Sinéad Mulhern as the governess and mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak as the housekeeper were the living adults astounded by the ghostly goings on. Tenor Vale Rideout, a company stalwart, and soprano Rebecca Nash inhabited the spirits of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. For the children, the company scored by finding amazing young talents. Boy soprano John Healy unnerved us all as the young Miles and company Apprentice Artist soprano Alisa Suzanne Jordheim convinced us she was much younger to bring Flora to life.
Ultimately, it was stagecraft and stage direction that brought this production into the realm of greatness. The black curtain with its imbedded images of grotesqueries became a dramatic character. The ever-changing canvas for the photographic and silhouetted complimentary images of the story had a life of its own. The stage always presented its images out of darkness with lighting that came from above or the periphery producing living shadows. Scenes moved seamlessly through the 15 orchestral variations, 16 scenes and a prelude without any dramatic letdown.
This was the work of a production team that obviously fused artistic insight with powerful passion: stage director Alessandro Talevi, set and costume designer Madeleine Boyd, resident lighting designer David Martin Jacques and wig/makeup designer Dave Bova.
These combined efforts assured we were all possessed by the spirits of Bly House.