Spirits or Psychosis? ‘Turn of the Screw’ Opera Presentation Leaves it to the Audience

October 7, 2016

More Information:
For Media Only: Helene Snihur (585-274-1057, hsnihur@esm.rochester.edu)

turn-of-the-screw-2016-oct-31-dr-rehearse-crop

Robin Steitz (laying down) and Yvonne Trobe are among the performers in Eastman Opera Theatre’s production of “The Turn of the Screw.” Photo and Lighting by Nic Mineto

A young woman is charged with caring for two children in an isolated, enormous manor house. Is she being challenged by two malevolent spirits for control of her wards? Or is she descending into paranoia?

The questions are left unanswered in The Turn of the Screw, Benjamin Britten’s dark opera that will be presented by Eastman Opera Theatre Nov. 3 through 6. “The piece walks a fine line between a traditional ghost story and a tale of mental instability,” said Stephen Carr, associate artistic director of Eastman Opera Theatre. “It’s deliciously ambiguous, and our production fully embraces that.”

Britten’s 20th-century opera is based on Henry James’s famous 19th-century novella and Carr, associate professor of opera and musical theatre studies at the Eastman School of Music, noted other themes that appear in the work.

“I think James’s insistence upon ambiguity was itself a critique of the Victorian mentality of his time, when issues of good versus evil were seen in very black-and-white terms. Reality, as our protagonist discovers, is more often gray,” he explained. “She is charged with the care of two impossibly innocent and pure children, qualities she feels bound to protect and guard, both in them and in herself. But when news arrives that the boy has been expelled from school for reasons too awful to name, a crack appears in the façade, and her white-knuckled grip on her own narrowly-defined reality begins to slip.”

The Turn of the Screw follows a young parson’s daughter who is hired by a charming man to serve as governess to his niece and nephew. But there is one condition: If she accepts the position, under no circumstances is she to contact him. Whatever happens, it is she who must be responsible. Not long after arriving at the estate, she is confronted by sightings of the house’s former governess and manservant, both of whom are now dead. Convinced that these ghosts have acquired an unnatural influence over the children, she engages in what she sees as a battle with the ghosts for the children’s souls, with tragic results.

Britten’s music for The Turn of the Screw enhances the dark and eerie atmosphere. Beginning with a famous 12-tone theme introduced during the prologue, the opera presents musical motifs for individual characters as well as incorporating children’s songs, creating an unsettling contrast that mirrors the story’s ambiguity. Complex orchestral interludes propel the story from scene to scene, ratcheting up the tension to the conclusion, said Carr.

The set for Eastman Opera Theatre’s presentation of The Turn of the Screw will call to mind the sepia and grey tones of Victorian photography, heightening the haunted atmosphere of the work. Two casts of Eastman voice students will alternate performances and will be accompanied by a small ensemble of Eastman student musicians conducted by Benton Hess, Distinguished Professor of Voice and music director of Eastman Opera Theatre.

The two-and-a-half-hour production will be sung in English with supertitles in the Eastman School of Music’s Kilbourn Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, Friday, Nov. 4, and Saturday, Nov. 5; with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Nov. 6. Pre-performance lectures will be given one hour earlier in the School’s Ray Wright Room (Room 120).

Tickets are $25 to $35 (discounts with UR ID), and are available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office, 433 East Main St.; by phone: (585) 274-3000; or online at EastmanTheatre.org

# # #

Calendar Listings:

Thursday, November 3

Eastman Opera Theatre: Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The Henry James story becomes an eerie, unsettling operatic masterpiece in the hands of a great 20th-century British composer. Stephen Carr, director; Benton Hess, music director.

7:30 p.m. (Pre-performance lecture 6:30 p.m., Ray Wright Room [Room 120], Eastman School Main Building)

Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.

Tickets: $25 to $35 (discounts with UR and student ID); available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office, Eastman East Wing, 433 East Main St.; by phone: (585) 274-3000; or online at EastmanTheatre.org

 

Friday, November 4

Eastman Opera Theatre: Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The Henry James story becomes an eerie, unsettling operatic masterpiece in the hands of a great 20th-century British composer. Stephen Carr, director; Benton Hess, music director.

7:30 p.m. (Pre-performance lecture 6:30 p.m., Ray Wright Room [Room 120], Eastman School Main Building)

Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.

Tickets: $25 to $35 (discounts with UR and student ID); available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office, Eastman East Wing, 433 East Main St.; by phone: (585) 274-3000; or online at EastmanTheatre.org

 

Saturday, November 5

Eastman Opera Theatre: Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The Henry James story becomes an eerie, unsettling operatic masterpiece in the hands of a great 20th-century British composer. Stephen Carr, director; Benton Hess, music director.

7:30 p.m. (Pre-performance lecture 6:30 p.m., Ray Wright Room [Room 120], Eastman School Main Building)

Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.

Tickets: $25 to $35 (discounts with UR and student ID); available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office, Eastman East Wing, 433 East Main St.; by phone: (585) 274-3000; or online at EastmanTheatre.org

 

Sunday, November 6

Eastman Opera Theatre: Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The Henry James story becomes an eerie, unsettling operatic masterpiece in the hands of a great 20th-century British composer. Stephen Carr, director; Benton Hess, music director.

2 p.m. (Pre-performance lecture 1 p.m., Ray Wright Room [Room 120], Eastman School Main Building)

Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.

Tickets: $25 to $35 (discounts with UR and student ID); available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office, Eastman East Wing, 433 East Main St.; by phone: 585-274-3000; or online: or online at EastmanTheatre.org