There were way too many fluffy reviews happening on this blog. So I decided to go a little dark this time.
The recorded opera I decided to review this week is a rendition of The Turn of the Screw. A horror opera based upon a horror novella, this is one of the few operas touted for being genuinely frightening. This production was originally released in 2008, and was filmed at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth, Western Australia.
It’s been a while since I reviewed a dramatic opera, and the time away from them had made me suspicious. What would this opera do to be scary? And would the fact that it was an English translation have any effect?
To my delight, the English language actually enhanced the experience of this opera. Sentences like “She was full of doubt” carried extra weight, and brought to mind the atmosphere created in a particularly well-made production of Sweeney Todd. Indeed, the entire production is staged like a penny dreadful, and it absolutely works. The set itself is very impressive, and plays well to the show’s claustrophobic themes. Set pieces switch between opaque and mirrored sides, creating a lovely eerie feeling. It also helps that there is not a voice among the cast that isn’t as docile as the music itself. No one sticks as trying to sing in a separate style, only lending to the beautiful atmosphere. However, watching this film with subtitles is definitely preferable to listening without. The ghosts in particularly are hard to listen to with a “naked ear,” but they are so lovely and confident in their acting that it is still a delight to see.
In terms of acting, Eilene Hannan is absolutely astounding as the Governess. Not only is she very capable of singing in English, but she is one of the very few singers I’ve ever seen capable of singing fearfully. She knows how to convey fear in a way that the audience understands, but stays perfectly in line with the music. Margaret Haggart is also lovely as housekeeper Mrs. Grose, though she is slightly less clear speaking in English. Her phrasing of one “Dear God…” is masterful in the middle of Act 1, elegant to hear but barely discernible. But I have to give her plenty of credit for a small thing she does that I hardly ever see people able to pull off: Staying in character through scene transitions.
The children Flora and Miles (played by Lanette Jones and Patrick Littlemore, respectively) are both very comfortable within their roles. Jones has more than one eerie as a too-clever-for-her-own-good child of horror. She’s biting, and very capable of being terrifying. Littlemore is a force of nature by himself, and his smug expression at the news of his sister running off in Act 2 is worth watching the entire second half. But the two children’s chemistry with the more mysterious entities of the show makes for some of the most compelling scenes in the opera. Tenor Anson Austin, who plays the evil Peter Quint is absolutely delicious to hear. No spoilers on if he’s alive or not!
This is a lovely film for people looking to switch up their opera diet, and may even delight a few horror film fans. The symbols of classic works are there, and the setting absolutely fits the story. The singers are all lovely actors, including the children. The singing is not perfectly clear without subtitles, but the grace of every voices makes it still worthy of watching. It’s well worth watching in the dark.
About the Author: Brit McGinnis writes regularly for nerdy blogs, awesome magazines, and random video game sites that feature Sasquatch. In her free time, she edits and writes even more things. You can see some samples of her work on her website. She also loves running, watching horror movies, and playing video games.