BWW Reviews: TURN OF THE SCREW as Told Through a Horror Movie Lens
New York City Opera's production of Britten's chamber opera "The Turn of the Screw" opened Sunday afternoon to a full house at Brooklyn Academy Of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House as the Prologue, played by Dominic Armstrong, fills us in on the back story as it is played out onstage. The stark setting with desk and chair and overhead fluorescent lighting sets the mood to which the score builds upon throughout the prologue. We watch the Governess in an interview with a man to care for two orphaned children who we find out to be his niece and nephew. After accepting the position to help "such a busy man", we eerily follow the Governess, played by Sara Jakubiak, down the country road to her new life. The scene is now set for Act I of this production which director, Sam Buntrock, describes as having been drawn "from iconic films such as The Shining, The Exorcist and Poltergeist.
As the curtain rises on the set of the manner house, brilliantly designed by David Farley, we can truly feel the disembodied nature of the production with a skeletal outline of the house portrayed through window frames and a free standing staircase leading to a closed white door at the top. The entire set is framed cleverly with individual light bulbs suspended at different heights and depths of the stage as designed by lighting designer, David Weiner. These bulbs help to transform the stage to several locations, first by portraying a night sky and later a river at the performers' feet.
Sara Jakubiak plays the Governess with true warmth while singing the role with amazing dexterity and extreme range. Ms. Jakubiak's crisp soprano lines coupled with Sharmay Musacchio's full- bodied contralto tones as the housekeeper mixed perfectly to add stark contrasts in the tonal musical line. The drastic shifts and transformation these two characters go through, as mirrored in the 12-tone structure of the music, was well portrayed on the stage.
The children, played by 13-year-old treble, Benjamin P. Wenzelberg and 30-year-old soprano, Lauren Worsham, also have difficult parts to portray as they have become haunted by the ghosts of the valet, Peter Quint, and housekeeper, Miss Jessel. Wenzelerg plays the role of Miles very convincingly with a sweet yet small voice. Ms Worsham sings the role of Flora very strongly though overshadowed by the interesting acting choice of mental illness. While adding to the ambiguity within the household I felt it a bit contrived. Both Dominic Armstrong and Jennifer Cooper play their apparitions with great menace and haunting vocals.
Britten's 1954 score alone perfectly instills a sense of apprehension in the listener by use of the 12-note chromatic scale. Buntrock's addition of the 1980s horror movie style added to the eerie setting but eventually became a bit heavy handed for me by the end. While an interesting concept overall, I found that it tended to pull from the true strength of this opera, the chamber music.
Remaining dates are February 26, 28 and March 2 at 7:30. Brooklyn Academy Of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene; (718) 636-4100, bam.org.