Saturday 12 July 2014

Still scary - The Turn of the Screw - Christine Collins Young Artists at Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park- Turn of the Screw - Christine Collins Young Artists
Opera Holland Park's James Clutton and Sarah Crabtree with the
Christine Collins Young Artists and the cast of
The Turn of the Screw.
Thursday 10 July 2014 saw the second of this year's performances at Opera Holland Park by the Christine Collins Young Artists. Annilese Miskimmon's production of The Turn of the Screw (see our review of the original production) was performed by a cast made up of Young Artists; Fleur de Bray was the Governess, Bradley Smith was Peter Quint, Emily Blanch was Miss Jessel and Nick Pritchard was the Prologue. From the main cast, Diana Montague was Mrs Grose, Dominic Lynch was Miles and Rosie Lomas was Flora. The performance was conducted by Harry Ogg (read my 2013 interview with him), with the City of London Sinfonia in the pit, and the Associate Director was Deborah Cohen.

Miskimmon's production separates the Prologue from the remainder of the opera, having a separate singer (Nick Pritchard) as the school teacher who delivers the Prologue and a separate time frame. The Prologue is set in a school in the 1950's whilst the opera proper, using the same set, is in the 19th century. (Leslie Travers designs were bleak but elegant, and functioned well in a theatre with minimal stage machinery.) Miskimmon keeps the school teacher and his charges as a separate thread running through the production, sometimes the two eras exist simultaneously. The 1950's strand was notable for the way she developed a strong suggestion to the relationship between Pritchard and one of his pupils. Perhaps this was intended to comment on the Peter Quint (Bradley Smith) and Miles (Dominic Lynch). In this production there was hardly any sexual charge in the relationship between Miles and the Governess (Fleur de Bray), Miskimmon seemed far more interested in the sexual tension between Quint and the children. So much so, that all had the same red hair colour, and Lynch's Miles had developed a number of Quint's mannerism. As Hilary Glover has said, in her review of this production on this blog, the production is indeed one of most tense and successfully eerie productions that I have seen, with the ghosts and the children using similar stylised body language.

Fleur de Bray started out as quite a fragile Governess. There was a clear sense of her constant anxiety and tension in her demeanour. As the action developed, and the ghosts showed themselves, Fleur de Bray developed an inner strength and acted with all the determination that can happen when weak people make foolish decisions. She was an upright character completely at sea. De Bray started out sounding slightly too quiet, as she warmed up and as the character developed so did her performance. Singing with clear expressive tone, and a clear sense of vocal control and colour, this was an impressive debut in a hugely taxing role.

Bradley Smith was a suitably threatening and loomingly ominous Quint, with a bright timbred tenor voice which gave the character menace. Smith impressed with his vibrant account of Quint's music, making him not only threatening but not a little thrilling at times. He was well partnered by Emily Blanch's robust Miss Jessel. Rich of timbre and rather raddled in appearance, Blanch's Jessel made the most of her opportunities and created a strong character. She also sang the music rather well (something which does not always happen in this role). Both Smith and Blanch made a fine, tingling team especially in 'the ceremony of innocence'.

Nick Pritchard was a notable prologue, singing with a lovely sense of line and a feel for the words that Britten needs. I would like to see him in more Britten and did wonder what he would have made of Peter Quint. In an evening of strong performances, his was perhaps the finest singing we heard.

The Young Artists meshed well into the production and joined Diana Montague, Rosie Lomas and Dominic Lynch from the main cast in creating a seamless and tense drama. Montague's Mrs Grose was lighter, less Giles' Grandmother than some and the role was all the better for it, with the subtlety of Montague's singing and characterisation; this was a production which got the social niceties of Bly just right. Dominic Lynch was wonderfully scary as Miles; he did not have the strongest of voices but it was very clear and true. Lynch seems to be a natural stage creature, suggesting a strange inner world for Miles from his body movements. His partner in crime, Rosie Lomas was equally impressive and the two made for some spooky moments.

In the pit, players from the City of London Sinfonia responded well to Harry Ogg's sympathetic and confident direction. In a score which includes many solo moments for the players, Ogg clearly knew when to give the players their freedom. The orchestral sound had a lovely transparency and Britten's score worked well in the theatre.

After the performance Opera Holland Park's James Clutton paid tribute to the financial and moral support that the late Christine Collins had provided, helping create the young artists scheme in its present, distinctive form.

I do hope that we get to hear more Britten at Opera Holland Park, Albert Herring anyone?

Elsewhere on this blog:

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