By GARY FERRINGTON
Henry James’s Gothic tale about a newly hired young governess and two children who quietly live in a remote English country house, only to be visited by apparent ghosts, is the inspiration for Benjamin Britten’s 1954 spellbinding chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw. The Eugene Opera will perform this haunting story twice over the Halloween weekend.
This chamber opera production, which opens the Eugene Opera’s 2015-2016 season, features an ensemble of six established and emerging stars with ties to the Pacific Northwest. Twenty-year veteran of traditional and contemporary opera and UO voice faculty member Laura Decher Wayte plays the unsuspecting governess who is welcomed to Bly Manor by Portland mezzo soprano Beth Madsen Bradford in the role of its housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. The seemingly happy children, Miles (performed by fourth year UO music composition and voice undergraduate Carolyn Quick) and sister Flora (sung by Salem native Emily Way), slowly become demonstratively disruptive.
As the story (adapted from James’s 1898 novella by Myfanwy Piper) unfolds, the housekeeper reveals that Peter Quint, a former manservant, sung by Brendan Tuohy, and Miss Jessel, a former governess, performed by Seattle soprano Tess Altiveros, were suspected of child abuse and that both had died under mysterious circumstances. The new governess believes that the children may be haunted by the ghosts of Quint and Jessel and, sensing they are in danger, realizes it is up her to take action.
The Turn of the Screw and the May 2016 production of Mark Adamo’s chamber opera Little Women, mark a major change in Eugene Opera’s traditional programming schedule by doubling the season’s offerings. This year, each opera, including the company’s fully staged productions of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Eugene Onegin by Peter Tchaikovsky, has been inspired by a work of fiction. A variety of entertaining and informative events have been scheduled to explore the interrelationship between the original literature and each opera inspired by it.
Eugene Opera’s General Director Mark Beudert and University of Oregon Professor of Philosophy Scott Pratt go behind the scenes of Britten’s opera to reveal the hard work and technical expertise required by the performance on stage in a pre-performance Opera Insights talk at 6:45 pm on Friday, October 30, and at 1:45 pm Sunday, November 1, in the Hult Center Lobby.
Public events earlier this month included an early screening and discussion of The Innocents, a film based on James’s The Turn of the Screw, starring Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave, directed by Jack Clayton with screenplay by Truman Capote and William Archibald, a Listen Now series presentation in which educator, musician and conductor Vincent Centeno explored the musical themes of Britten’s opera, and a free talk, “Fixing Phantoms in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw,” by UO Instructor Brendan O’Kelly.
The Turn of the Screw with Michael Sakir, Eugene Opera’s guest conductor, will be performed in the Hult Center for the Performing Arts Soreng Theater at 7:30 pm, Friday, October 30 and 2:30 pm November 1.
Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.