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But what of The Turn of the Screw?

Kovalik's production recognises that there are three more 'characters' to this opera than are normally printed on the handout or the programme. Given that everything -- band, action and audience are accommodated on the stage of the Erkel Theatre, the potential for intimacy and claustrophobia are written into his staging choices. The chamber orchestra is the most obvious of these. It's impossible to dispute that this is an extraordinary score even judging by Britten's highest standards. Placed in an alcove -- a perfect fit, as it seemed -- at the back of the stage behind the action, the players under Oberfrank Péter achieved a degree of technical precision and emotional involvement that might well have induced one of Britten's lopsided, entirely-approving smiles.

And then there's a character of cold or sun-shone stone, mullioned windows and Gothic turrets, gardens and streams of growth and decay. The house at 'Bly' needs to be a participant in the tragedy as Henry James' doom-laden signing of the lease on Lamb House in Rye sparked the whole psychological escapade. Video projections, on this occasion as on most, outstayed their welcome -- but they did serve the purpose of inviting the audience to contemplate location -- the attractions, mysteries and threats of spooky house and grounds -- and spookier insights into organic growth and undergrowth: development and corruption.

The third 'extra character' -- the unavoidable presence being, naturally, 'us -- the audience'. As the Prologue ended and the safety curtain closed with an unarguable mechanical finality behind the ranked audience (a capacity of about 150) at the front of the stage, I felt a shiver of entrapment. There was no escaping whatever was to come. Whatever the horrors conjured by the imaginations of James, Myfanwy Piper and Benjamin Britten, we were locked in for the duration.

Kovalik's Narrator, a suitably epicure-looking Gulyás Dénes, is fondly enjoying his dinner and his wine as the audience arrive. When all is settled and we've had a clever foretaste of the opera's musical motifs in the band's 'tuning-up', he simply wipes his mouth and hands on a luxuriant napkin and James' tale of 'uncanny ugliness and horror and pain' begins its slow descent.

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Copyright © 29 February 2004 David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK


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