Opera Reviews
13 November 2019
Untitled Document

A significant achievement for New Zealand Opera



by Douglas Elliot
Britten: The Turn of the Screw
New Zealand Opera
ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland
18 October 2019
Alexandros Swallow (Miles), Alexa Harwood (Flora)

Like many smaller companies New Zealand Opera tends to stick with the canon - the Mozarts, Carmen, Italian comedies, middle period Verdi and so on. And it's very understandable. So it is good to see that their selection of the marvellous The Turn of the Screw has been rewarded with full houses in both Auckland and Wellington. 

Britten's taut retelling of the Henry James novella worked well in the intimate Waterfront Theatre. A single set was used: a dark attic-like space with expressionistic distortion of perspective. Props and furniture were brought on stage as needed or retrieved from a dress up trunk. A curtain was used to split the stage in two. Rendered transparent it allowed for back-lit shadows for the ghosts. I only missed a sense of the open air outside the church, by the lake, or beneath the tower. Kudos to Tracy Grant Lord (Designer) and Thomas de Mallet Burgess (Director) for their contributions to the haunted  claustrophobia of the setting and action. 

On this showing Jared Holt's transitioning to tenor has been a success. Debonair as the narrator, he made a terrifying and seductive Peter Quint, singing the complex melismas both musically and dramatically. When teamed with Madeline Peirard's rich voiced Miss Jessell, it seemed (almost certainly) that the ghosts were real rather than something conjured up by the Governess. Anna Leese, though, allowed the possibility of the second option, through the Governess' vulnerability, and her sensuously expressed feelings for the childrens' uncle. She sang with a wide range of colour and expression encompassing the fear of "Lost in my labyrinth," her scared affection for Miles and her determination to "save" him. 

It was good to see Patricia Wright again who made Mrs Grose the key character she should be. And Alexandros Swallow and Alexa Harwood as Miles and Flora kept the audience unbalanced with the actions and words of the children. Swallow's very different responses to Quint and the Governess were especially notable. 

The opera was performed without surtitles, so diction was important, and generally good, with Quint and Miles always clear, and the Governess usually so except when at the top of her range.

Holly Mathieson led members of the Auckland Philharmonia incisively, but relaxing during the lyrical portions. The repeated theme bound the score together. The orchestra were off to one side of the stage, and I wondered if that contributed to a slight disconnect between the musicians and the singers.  

All my caveats are really quibbles: it was a wonderful few hours with one of the best 20th century operas, and a great achievement for New Zealand Opera. 

Text © Douglas Elliot
Photo © Marty Melville
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