Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Turning the screw

I saw "The Turn of the Screw" last night at the ENO, courtesy of some nice cousins who had spare tickets. Now, I'm not a great opera goer, and don't listen to much classical music beyond some of the easier-drinking works of Bach, Sibelius and Philip Glass, and I wondered how much I would really enjoy an evening's excursion into the atonal.

All I can say is that Britten's use of disturbing disharmonies to convey Henry James' disturbing tale is a marriage made in Heaven (or possibly the other place, given the story line). I literally felt a tingle of fear down my spine at one moment in the unfolding of the last scene of Act 1, as the ghosts (Timothy Robinson's Quint and Cheryl Barker's Miss Jessel) tempted the sleeping children (Nazam Fikret as Flora and Jacob Moriarty as Miles) .

I've always had a certain fondness for Lear upon the blasted heath, possibly due to a still-vivid dream from Farleigh House (where I boarded from about seven to twelve) which involved me in the crowded school chapel, "walking down the aisle, reciting random numbers with a fixed, courageous smile". Anyway, Rebecca Evan's governess, sadly singing "Malo, malo" as the opera closed, did it for me, if you'll forgive the technical phrase.

And the visuals - wonderfully gothic, black and white (mainly black), not a scrap of colour that I can recall, just one sinister tableau fading into another, and all so buttoned-up that it made Whistler's Mother look like a sixties flower child.

Any moans? Without wishing to be mean, I thought the signer was an unnecessary visual distraction, especially with surtitles overhead. And on a seriously trivial note, could they have done anything about Timothy Robinson's slightly worrying resemblence to Gryff Rhys Jones?

And not a moan, but a question - is the tail slightly wagging the dog here? Part of me feels that the "ceremony of innocence is drowned" theme should be the engine powering the story of the governess' crisis - either she has failed the total responsibility she accepted for two innocent children, or she is slowly going mad. That's a good story, isn't it? Good enough for Rosemary's Baby, at least? But this production, at least, got so much mileage from the first theme that it was not until those final notes that I, at least, could feel equally involved by her fate. Maybe it's just one of those "life's unfair" things - it's easier to care about children than about governesses, even if the latter were once the former.

Seriously, it was an eye-opening experience for this non-opera goer, and I would certainly recommend it for anyone who ever feared being bored at a night at the opera.