Saturday, 2 November 2013

Britten - Turn of the Screw

Benjamin Britten - The Turn of the Screw

Istanbul State Opera and Ballet - 2013

Leonhard Garms, Aytaç Manizade, Stéphanie Varnerin, Sébastien Obrecht, Gülbin Günay, Lynn T. Çağlar, İlyas Seçkin, Sevim Zerenaoğlu

Armel Opera Festival, Szeged - ARTE Live Web - 12th October 2013

With a small chamber orchestra arrangement, Britten's The Turn of the Screw isn't a work that needs a lot of theatrical or dramatic elaboration. Each instrument contributes meaningfully to the impact of each scene, creating the exact and necessary mood, but it also leaves room for suggestion and supposition, which is just as vital and important. There's plenty of mood in the Istanbul State Opera production of Britten's version of Henry James's ghostly tale, but perhaps not quite so much consideration given to the more ambiguous elements contained within the characters as suggested by the music itself.

Staged at the Szeged National Opera theatre in Hungary for the Armel Opera Festival, the Istanbul State Opera production created acres of ghostly gothic mood and ambience with the minimum of props and the simples of backdrops. Efter Tunç's props were limited to basic beds, writing tables, rocking horses but were at least period and evocative enough - with dead leaves scattered around for effect - to create the right environment for the sinister behaviour of the children and for the appearance of the opera's ghosts, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Cem Yilmazer's lighting and colour coding - violent red for Quint, jealous green for Jessel - combined with the costumes also served to create an dark, gothic environment.

Individual scenes then worked to tremendously spooky effect, the lighting enhancing Quint's appearance at the French windows, the appearance of Miss Jessel by the "Dead Sea" seeing Flora's doll slide creepily across the stage, with plenty of blood-curdling behaviour during the chilling scene where the ghosts interact directly with the children. They might have occasionally gone overboard with the dry ice, but it was a highly effective staging, one of the strongest and most consistent of the whole Festival. Tim Burton would have been proud of it.

Unfortunately, Aytaç Manizade's direction never escaped beyond the confines of the gothic horror to explore the rather more psychological and suggestive content in Turn of the Screw. The two ghosts seem to be nothing more than indeed ghosts. The repression of the Governess is usually seen as the key motivator behind the sightings, but her dealings with the children's guardian isn't really established as a factor here. If anything there's the possibility of reading Quint as a projection of Miles' dark side, and they are effectively linked by the image of the horse. There is further suggestion that Miles' behaviour may be related to having witnessed a liaison between Quint and Jessel, but there's nothing more than mild canoodling seen, and not anything that would drive the boy to bad and dangerous behaviour.

It's unfortunate that the director wasn't able to do more with enhancing the motivations of the Governess, as Stéphanie Varnerin was more than capable of expressing the edgier tone that creeps into her character's disturbed temperament as well as having a lovely timbre that captures her outward appearance of caring sweetness and gentility. Sébastien Obrecht made the most of a juicy role and took away the Armel Opera Festival's Best Male Performer award. The cast supporting the competition performers were superb, contributing to this being one of the all-round strongest productions of the Festival.

The Armel Opera Festival performance of The Turn of the Screw can be viewed for free for six months after the performance on the ARTE Live Web streaming service. Subtitles are French only.