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Opera Preview: The Turn of the Screw

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
New York City Opera gambles on young talent. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Opera Preview: The Turn of the Screw

What about the boy? Benjamin P. Wenzelberg (center) finds himself in a supernatural
custody battle in this new City Opera production of The Turn of the Screw.
Photo by Carol Rosegg © 2013 New York City Opera.

The Turn of the Screw is Benjamin Britten's creepiest operas. The British composer (who celebrates his centennial later this year) transformed Henry James' Gothic ghost story into a tale of innocence corrupted and evil triumphant. The clock-like score is one of Britten's tightest creations, a concise re-telling of the story with key changes that serve to increase dramatic tension, placing stress on the listener.
Britten's opera (the libretto is by Myfanwy Piper) is not a straightforward adaptation of  Henry James' ambiguous ghost story. In Ms. Piper's version, the ghosts Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are actual supernatural forces, preying on two innocent children at the Essex country estate of Bly. (James' novella leaves the reader unsure if the Governess is seeing things or slowly going insane.)
In this new City Opera production (presented for four shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music) those qualities of innocence and evil are embodied in the person of Benjamin P. Wenzelberg, a 13-year old boy treble with acting chops and an extraordinary voice. This is his second turn at Turn of the Screw having also played Miles in last year's Symphony Space production mounted by Opera Moderne.
This new production of The Turn of the Screw features City Opera veterans Sara Jakubiak as the Governess and Dominic Armstrong as Peter Quint. The production is by award-winning British theater director Sam Buntrock, continuing the City Opera's plan of four new stagings for the 2013 season.
The Turn of the Screw opens Feb. 24.
Recording Recommendation:
The recommendation for this opera is easy enough. Benjamin Britten conducted the work himself as part of a near-complete cycle of his works for Decca records. mysterious, atmospheric set that featured the composer's longtime partner Peter Pears as Quint (the role was written for the English tenor) and Jennifer Vyvyan as the Governess, Joan Cross as Mrs. Grose and Arda Mandikian as Miss Jessel With a young David Hemmings as Miles, this is the one to own.

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