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Selected Review


Opera

Berlin Staatsoper at the Schiller Theater
Britten: The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

Imagine the reader going to a famous steak restaurant, asking for the main steak dish and being presented with a piece of chicken. Upon protesting, the reader is made to look like a fool because he failed to grasp the analogy between the ordered steak and the chicken served, prepared by a cook who liked controversy more than cooking. There is nothing more threating to our beloved genre than this current fashion of Konzept which has taken over producers even once admired and liked by this critic. It is not that the works are being deconstructed, they always are and they will always be, for this is the beginning of any coherent and intelligent production, an approach which comes from the spoken theatre. But there is a point at which the process must stop being a process and what has been learnt afresh is incorporated into the production and all the rest is left out in order to preserve the integrity of the piece. This is what does not happen with this new current wave of producers: Stolzl, Guth, Loy, Kusej, Warlikowski and so many others who impose themselves on a defenseless work and change it out of all recognition.

I wonder what The Britten Foundation would have said of this production. Letís start with the best part, the set. In 2002 in Musical Opinion I published a review of Harry Kupferís last production at the Komische Oper, where he was Chief Regiesseur for 21 years. Kupferís 2002 production was done in one act (as Claus Guthís) and it used a revolving set (as Claus Guthís), the revolving set showed different rooms of the house (as Claus Guthís), and it was seen in Berlin (as Claus Guthís). One production (Kupferís), respected the integrity of the work, the other (Guthís), did not.

As a former scientist, not mentioning well known references from other scientists would have meant a severe reprimand from my former University. Let the reader then draw his own conclusions. But letís not confuse things. For his new ďchicken instead of beefĒ production, Guth produced a very good show. It moved quickly and the acting was first class, the coup de gr‚ce was visually stunning and reminded one of Bette Davis in Baby Jane. The problem is that it bore only a faint resemblance to the original story. Does one have total liberty to distort the characters to such an extent? Do the original writer of the story, Henry James, and the librettist, Myfanwy Piper, working very closely with a very sensitive and well read composer, Benjamin Britten, not count?

In both Jamesís and Brittenís works, Miles (the boy) must not be more than 10 years old. Guth, perversely, declares in the programme that his version of Miles is an adolescent going through puberty. Interestingly, not once did this adolescent Miles make me feel any pity or sympathy for him. The Governess also suffered similar treatment. Not only was she totally infatuated with her employer but she was the one character possessed by visions which brought her rolling onto the floor almost half the time, showing her as Brittenís version of Renate in Prokofievís The Angel of Fire. There was an insinuation of lesbianism between the Governess and Mrs Grose and more than an insinuation of Ďadolescent abuseí as well as incest between Miles and Flora. In fact everything but the kitchen sink was thrown onto a work which is delicately balanced on a knifeís edge so that it can function. At the end of it, it seemed as if this Governessís infatuation with Miles had reached its hysterical peak: she had sent Mrs Grose and Flora away (this is part of the original story of course) in order for her to dine alone with Miles. This last two-some supper ended badly as she strangled Miles on his chair and then sat on the other side of the large table eating her well earned meal, having by now gone completely mad. What John Cleese would have said of this last supper painted by Claus Guth is another story. Of course, Emma Bell is a consummate professional and she not only sang the role with ease but also acted convincingly what must have been an exhausting part. Her Governess lost, for no fault of her own, the soft side (which is pity), a Victorian sense of duty (more pity), and overall the sexual suppression and innocence also associated with Miles and Flora. Marie McLaughlin was an imposing and attractive Mrs Grose, Richard Croft appeared during the prologue as a replica of Peter Pears, trying to imitate his voice, which seemed like a lack of respect for a much loved artist, and then disappeared and was only heard thereafter as a voice inside the Governessís head. Anna Samuil was also never seen as Miss Jessel. She sang it in an insinuating way, as if to remind us how much we were missing by not having her on stage. The only brilliant spot of this frustrating evening was Ivor Boltonís conducting which simply had it all, detail, pulse, drama, and overall that typical Brittenesque crisp sound which, luckily, producers cannot alter.

Eduardo Benarroch

 

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