The Turn of The Screw | Victorian OperaPhotos - Jeff Busby

Victorian Opera’s
production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is an intriguing experience. Based on Henry James’ novella, it tells the story of a Governess (Danielle Calder) who has been appointed to take care of two children, Miles (Takshin Fernando) and Flora (Georgina Darvidis) in the absence of their guardian. After arriving at Bly House, the Governess befriends the housekeeper Mrs Grose (Maxine Montgomery) and settles into caring for the two children, but comes to realise that something sinister has cast a shadow over the house. What unfolds is a ghostly tale of possession involving the former governess Miss Jessel (Melanie Adams) and the sinister manservant Peter Quint (James Egglestone). 

The singing performances are affecting, particularly sopranos Danielle Calder and Maxine Montgomery and tenor James Egglestone. The younger performers also acquit themselves admirably, particularly Takshin Fernando who gives a strong performance as Miles. Although when sopranos Calder and Melanie Adams were on stage together, I found it difficult to distinguish between their two voices and this lessened the musical experience.

The acting performances by contrast suffer greatly from wooden staging and contrived tableaux that seemed unable to fill the cavernous stage of the Playhouse. Whether this was the choice of director Kate Cherry, or a necessity for the performers to aid their vocal delivery, this greatly diminished the impact of the story and slowed the momentum such that it eliminated any tension.

Such an intimate story perhaps would have been better suited to the smaller Fairfax studio, where the performers could have better conjured a sense of claustrophobia and dread which would have added immeasurably to this production.

The set by Christina Smith did little to create the impression of the oppressive world of Bly House and its surrounds, and at times seemed unnecessary to telling the story. Smith’s costumes by contrast were much more interesting and better served the performance. Matt Scott’s lighting design is heavy-handed and overpowers the space and his use of moving light boxes seems anachronistic within the setting of the opera. Perhaps the most damning aspect of the production however, is the long and seemingly unnecessary scene changes that punctuate the entire production and greatly disturb the flow of the story and added unnecessarily to the running time.  

In contrast Britten’s music is atmospheric, and captures the mood of this dark story beautifully and the score is conducted with precision by Paul Kildea and his orchestra. At times the score feels extremely cinematic and it would be interesting to know if Britten was influenced by the language of cinema in composing his score, or whether it is his work that has influenced subsequent generations of film composers. Myfawny Piper’s libretto succinctly conveys the story and is cleverly intertwoven with Britten’s music. Overall this is a wonderful story whose enthusiastic performers can not save the production from some odd production choices.

Victorian Opera presents
The Turn of the Screw
by Benjamin Britten

Director Kate Cherry
Conductor Paul Kildea

Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: 7 - 17 July, 2010
Bookings: the Arts Centre 1300 182 183 | Ticketmaster Online or 1300 182 183

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