FEAR AND VENGEANCE, sexual transgression and mental torture: that's what it's all about. Set in the deceptively innocent confines of a remote country house, this year's Lowell House Opera. The Turn of the Screw, quickly disintegrates into a horribly perverted fairy tale. The opera is an adaptation of Henry James' story, with the libretto by Myfanwy Piper and the bewitchingly eerie music by Benjamin Britten.
The tale begins with nothing more complicated than the arrival of a new, kind, motherly governess charged with the task of looking after a charming pair of children. Margery Hellmold, with a strong, cultivated voice, rejoices in the fact that the children are so sweet, happy and loving. But we listen with a sense of forboding. For in the music there is a undercurrent of fear. And there is a sinister taint to the subtly gothic set designed by the well known author and illustrator Edward Gorey '50.
The dark secret, hidden in the walls of the house permeates the very air. Its force seep, into the minds and the bodies of Miles and Flora, the two unfortunate children. With a clear, sweet soprano voice Flora (Lisa Zeidenberg) sings to her doll and prattles to her governess. Mile (Edmond John Donlon III) appears equally childish and pure. Although he sings rather shakily, not is as boisterous as a high-spirited little boy should be. But he is the center of the evil, and we soon learn that things have been done here that are not good."
IN THIS STORY OF MORAL CORRUPTION, Miss Jesse's part is secondary to Quint's, but nonetheless terrifying. Doomed to suffering and shame for having yielded to Quint's powers, she returns to seek revenge. Kierstine seems to have really thought about the character of this former governess. She attracts our sympathy as well as our disgust. She is the inexcusably wronged woman as well as the relentlessly dangerous ghost. Adding to her role, Kierstine uses her arms and head in an almost drugged somnolence. Both' possessed and possessing, she succeeds in mesmerizing not only young Flora, but the audience as well.
Emphasizing the sense of veiled cruelty that is ever-present in the story of The Turn of the Screw, the lighting effects are spectacular. Nothing is presented in the clear light of day, but rather in a dim and slightly mottled gloom, punctuated occasionally by the lurid light of a blood-red sky. Furtive figures frantically seek to escape this depressing darkness, a darkness that almost becomes a metaphor for Quint's malevolence. Clever special effects make the two ghosts seem especially spectral. While the evil former man-servant appears and vanishes high at the top of the tower. Miss Jessel is lit from below, a technique which illuminates her grotesquels painted face and casts an abnormally immense black shadow on the ceiling of the room. We are continually reminded by the lighting, as well as the words of the opera, that this is a place in which "the ceremony of innocence is drowned."
Britten's score is particularly responsive to the emotions that run through the core of James' story. We not only hear Miss Jessel verbally bemoaning her fate, but also the heavy constant tone of suffering in the music. Even more ambiguous feelings come through, such as the rather naive disbelief that characterizes the housekeeper Mrs Grose (Nan Hughes). Hughes portrays Mrs. Grose as a harried, trusting woman whose gentle nature cannot comprehend the horror that surrounds her. She is a striking example of the professionalism, both in singing and acting, that marks the entire cast of this opera.
The Turn of the Screw is refreshingly simple and understated. It is an abstraction rather than an embellishment of the original tale This comparative starkness, us concentrate not on the twisting and turning the plot, but rather on the theme of the diabolical dimensions of evil. The ambiguous question remains whether the ghosts did physically return to harass the governess and her charges or whether they were a sort of mental residue that had not yet been erased from the minds of these abused children. The story never resolves this point, only concluding with the pessimistic realization that the good can never completely vanquish the bad. Although the governess manages to banish the ghosts from the house, their taint has already in part destroyed the children. In The Turn of the Screw nothing mitigates the relentless course of evil.