Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Moderne Take on a Ghost Story

Opera Moderne calls itself "[a] boutique opera company offering intimate, beautiful and unique performances." It was founded in 2011 by Rebecca Greenstein, one of the original founders of Opera Manhattan. (In the interest of full disclosure this reporter must divulge that he has been very much involved with Opera Manhattan in an administrative capacity during the past year.)  Opera Moderne has built a crack marketing and development team, and based on Saturday's performance of Mr. Britten's The Turn of the Screw at Symphony Space's Peter Norton Theatre, it appears they have a crack artistic team as well.

Anna Noggle
The Turn of the Screw is Britten's 1954 setting of the Henry James novella of the same name, about a young, inexperienced governess entrusted with the charge of two children in an isolated country house with a mysterious past.  Knowing the venue, I had assumed this would be a semi-staged concert performance, but I was wrong. Although the stage space was reduced by more than half by the orchestra, which spent most of its time behind a scrim, director Luke Leonard made efficient use of the space available. The actual set was comprised of a school room desk, a bench, and a spinet piano with bench, all before the scrim.  Gangways just upstage (elevated) and downstage of the orchestra were used cleverly, especially when making use of the scrim to differentiate between living and dead characters.  The only thing I wasn't sure about was having the scrim raised a few times--perhaps to break the veil between living and dead? The use of mime doubles for Quint and Miss Jessel seemed like an otherwise clever staging concept gone too far.

I can not sing the praises of the cast highly enough.  Most notable was the Governess of Anna Noggle, about whom I've written in glowing terms before.  Her singing was beautiful throughout, showing expressive range and color where appropriate, and she inhabited the character of the Governess quite effectively.  From the innocent young girl full of doubts to the young woman who knows more than she wants to and becomes slightly unwound, Miss Noggle never disappointed. She and Mr. Leonard left the distinction between fact and fantasy, the boundary between sanity and insanity, deliberately unclear, for the audience to reason for themselves.

The Miles of young Benjamin P. Wenzelberg was astounding.  His singing was beautiful, which is of course a given, and his acting was quite powerful, either as a normal, mischievous boy or as the eerie, zombie-like agent of Peter Quint.  Using the name Benjamin Perry, this was the Amahl in Chelsea Opera's 2009 Amahl and the Night Visitors, which was actually my first review.  I noted at that time that there seemed a noticeable break between head and chest registers, but it appears that has been worked out.  Flora, young sister of Miles, was sung and acted quite effectively by grownup soprano Vivian Krich-Brinton.  She and young Mr. Wenzelberg had a lovely chemistry on stage, and reacted well to each other.  In the moments when they moved in unison, they were quite effective.

Glenn Seven Allen
Glenn Seven Allen sang Peter Quint well, although I think he went a little too far on occasion in coloring some exclamatory statements. Possibly from the musical theater background that seems to dominate his bio. Julia Teitel's Mrs. Grose was very well sung and acted. Elspeth Davis sang better than I have ever heard her.

Conductor and Music Director Pacien Mazzagatti deserves praise for wrangling the pick-up orchestra effectively.  With the exception of a few tuning issues in the strings, they seemed to play rather well together.  They seemed well rehearsed, which is a rarity, small opera company budgets being what they are.  Costumes by Angela Huff and hair and makeup by Miss Greenstein also deserve praise.

Minor quibbles.  I'm not a big fan of using titles for opera in English, but if doing so, please rehearse with them.  'nuff said.  UPDATE:  I was reminded that Symphony Space required performing organizations use its own union A/V team, which explains the chaotic supertitles.  Opera Moderne personnel hijacked the supertitle function after halftime, and they were much better.

Also, I have a few fierce words for the audience member who shattered the final moments of the opera by shouting "Bravo!" a few moments too soon, while the rest of us were stunned by Miss Noggle's last utterances and needed those few moments to begin breathing again.

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