Opera North continues its superbly varied season with this revival of Alessandro Talevi’s much-praised production. Don’t go expecting the now fashionable onstage lake or much sense of an actual schoolroom, given that the set is dominated by a four poster bed in every scene, but do count on plenty of scary surprises, finely pointed up by Matthew Haskins’ wonderfully atmospheric lighting.
The cast steer their way around that bed with remarkable ease, and what a cast it is. Sarah Tynan is the ideal choice as The Governess, her slightly edgy voice and ability to suggest vulnerability never better shown, and Heather Shipp’s troubled Mrs Grose was her ideal foil. Eleanor Dennis brooded magnificently as Miss Jessel, her soaring tones emanating from a presence straight out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
Nicholas Watts brought his considerable stage experience to the roles of Prologue and Quint; he was exceptionally frightening in the latter part, conceived perhaps not so much a sexual tempter as a man with the desire for more all-encompassing power. Jennifer Clark and Tim Gasiorek were the horribly knowing children, barely seen as innocents before one wanted to run a mile from them, though both sang with winning clarity.
Britten said that the orchestra is the story, and here Leo McFall shaped the music with exquisite skill, bringing out both its terrifying power of suggestion and its sense of deceptive ease. Special mention is richly deserved for Annette Saunders’ Piano and Celeste, but the orchestra as a whole is on top form.
Madeleine Boyd’s set and costumes create a sense of stifling seclusion; everything and everyone is firmly pinioned so that when Miles undresses, the shock is all the more profound. The huge window through which Quint peers is cleverly used, and the opening ‘Journey’ scene establishes the production’s overall slant towards conventional creepiness. The central bed is presumably intended to emphasize the sexual elements in the tale, and it is employed to sinister effect in the scenes between The Governess and Miles.
The production is to be streamed ‘live’ from the Grand Theatre on www.operavision.eu on Friday 21st February, the first Opera North production to be thus featured. It will be available to view for a further six months, in a significant development for the company’s innovation in the digital realm; building upon the very successful Ring made available online, it gives a wider audience the chance to experience this company’s acclaimed productions.