Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” at New York City Opera to March 2

Benjamin Britten biography clip from Capriol Films on Vimeo.

Preview: Banjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at NYC Opera

Coming up: Our NY correspondent Teresa Sheffield will review the production next week.

Receiving a new production by the New York City Opera, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (1954) is as complex and densely woven as the composer himself. His opera based on the Henry James novella is a ghost story of course, that’s the easy description. But it is more than that, a psychological dissection of youthful innocence and its ultimate corruption. Composed in the 1950’s it is both a Victorian horror story in the style of the book, but also a contemporary tale of striving and neglect. Rather than a gothic tale it is a searing vision of the fears and terrors we all have had at some point in our lives. Youthful exuberance, and it ultimate repression is there, as is the thin line between sanity and madness, waking and dreams. Britten’s masterstroke is to combine the music of ghosts with the music of living people, and have it flow from scene to scene as the story unfolds.

Britten didn’t make it easy on himself to compose this two hour opera, he chose to test himself by using the infamous Schoenberg twelve-tone system which, in the hands of other composers often comes off forced and dissonant, but in Britten’s hand it is often natural in the context of his story, both spooky and mysterious at times, sweet and lyrical at others. As an opera, not only is the story endlessly fascinating, but the music itself, the singing, is beautifully wrought.

Benjamin Britten’s Centennial celebrated from NYC to the Berkshires

Here in the Berkshires, Tanglewood will mark the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth with a fully stage Curlew River this summer on July 31 and August 1.

Staging the composer’s The Turn of the Screw is a major operatic event. So to mark the centennial, NYC Opera chose to close its BAM residency with a fresh vision of this contemporary British chamber opera. The new production is created by Sam Buntrock, best-known for his multi-award-winning staging of Sunday in the Park with George in the West End and on Broadway. Buntrock calls this 20th-century masterpiece, a contemporary horror story where, “chilling events unravel a mysterious building’s terrifying past, pushing the boundaries between sanity and the supernatural.”

About the NYC Opera Production, Tickets, Performances

The production will be conducted by Jayce Ogren, and feature sets and costumes by David Farley and lighting by David Weiner. The singers include:

Prologue / Peter Quint Dominic Armstrong
Governess Sara Jakubiak
Flora Lauren Worsham
Miles Benjamin P. Wenzelberg (debut)
Mrs. Grose Sharmay Musacchio (debut)
Miss Jessel Jennifer Goode Cooper (debut)

Performances take place at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

Feb 24, 2013, 1:30pm | Feb 26, 2013, 7:30pm | Feb 28, 2013, 7:30pm | Mar 2, 2013, 7:30pm

Tickets start at $25 Buy Online or call 718.636.4100

New York City Opera production of "The Turn of the Screw." (l to r) Sara Jakubiak as the Governess, Benjamin P. Wenzelberg as Miles and Dominic Armstrong as Peter Quint. Photo by Carol Rosegg

New York City Opera production of “The Turn of the Screw.” (l to r) Sara Jakubiak as the Governess, Benjamin P. Wenzelberg as Miles and Dominic Armstrong as Peter Quint. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Synopsis of The Turn of the Screw

Prologue
Prologue relates a story written long ago by a woman once employed as the governess of two orphaned children in Bly, hired on the condition that she would never contact their guardian uncle in London, who was too busy to concern himself with them.

Act I
The Governess travels to Bly with apprehension. Her two young charges, Miles and Flora, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, await her arrival. When the children welcome the Governess to the estate, she feels reassured about her decision to accept the job.

Mrs. Grose gives the Governess a letter stating that Miles has been expelled from school, which causes the Governess to momentarily recall her anxieties about Bly. Mrs. Grose says that Miles can be wild, but that he is not bad. As the Governess and Mrs. Grose watch the children innocently singing, they decide that the school officials are mistaken. The Governess resolves that she will not tell the children’s guardian.

The Governess, increasingly enchanted by the children, strolls the grounds of Bly. Yet she has heard cries during the night and footsteps outside her door. Suddenly, she is startled at the sight of a man standing on the tower of the house.

As Flora and Miles ride a hobbyhorse, the Governess describes the apparition to Mrs. Grose. Mrs. Grose tells the Governess of the master’s former valet, Peter Quint, his strange influence on the children, and his involvement with Miss Jessel, the former governess, who left pregnant and subsequently died. Mrs. Grose adds that Quint later died after a fall on an icy road. The Governess vows to protect the children.

The Governess is giving Miles a Latin lesson when he sings her a mysterious, plaintive rhyme. As the Governess and Flora sit by a lake in the park, Flora names the seas she knows, ending with the Dead Sea. She sings to her doll while the Governess reads a book. When the Governess sees the figure of Miss Jessel across the lake, she hurries Flora away. At night, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel try to lure the children outside. The ghosts disappear when the Governess and Mrs. Grose arrive.

Act II
Miss Jessel and Peter Quint reproach each other and discuss their desire for revenge. The Governess reflects upon the evil she fears.

In the churchyard, Mrs. Grose comments upon the children’s sweetness, but the Governess tells her of their bizarre behavior. Mrs. Grose urges the Governess to write their guardian, but she refuses. As Flora enters the church, Miles lingers to ask the Governess when he will return to school. When he makes mention of “the others,” the Governess realizes what she is up against and decides to leave Bly.

The Governess enters the schoolroom to find Miss Jessel seated at her desk, lamenting her suffering. When the Governess challenges Miss Jessel, she vanishes. The Governess then decides to remain at Bly, but writes to the guardian. The Governess tells Miles that she has written to his guardian. Quint’s voice calls out to Miles, causing him to shriek. His candle goes out. Quint hovers over Miles, encouraging him to steal the letter before it can be sent. Miles slinks off to the schoolroom and takes the letter back to his bedroom.

In the schoolroom, Miles plays the piano for the Governess and Mrs. Grose. When Flora slips away, the Governess and Mrs. Grose go to find her. Miles exults in his successful ruse. The Governess and Mrs. Grose find Flora at the lake. Miss Jessel appears, but only the Governess sees her. Flora, shouting abuse at the Governess, is led off by Mrs. Grose. After hearing Flora’s evil ravings during the night, Mrs. Grose decides to take her away from Bly.

Mrs. Grose reveals that Miles stole the Governess’ letter. The Governess, now alone with Miles, questions the boy, but Quint tells Miles not to betray their secrets. Miles becomes hysterical and admits stealing the letter. When the Governess urges the boy to reveal the name of his tormentor, he implicates Quint. His power destroyed, Quint vanishes, as Miles falls dead.

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