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CLASSICAL  February 2008

CLASSICAL February 2008

Subject:

Capital Britten

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 25 Feb 2008 15:42:05 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (84 lines)

Sacramento, famed - if rather small-townish - capital of California, is
not where you'd expect world-class opera.  And yet, on Sunday afternoon,
this first-time visitor to Sacramento Opera had a delightful surprise
by an outstanding experience thereof.

Imagine Benjamin Britten's "The Turn of the Screw" in a spirited,
flawless performance, a splendidly cast, convincingly directed,
spectacularly sung and played production.  Company artistic director
and conductor Timm Rolek deserves double acknowledgment for selection
and execution.  Few companies venture to put on this gem, a complex,
puzzling ghost story based on Henry James' 1898 psychological thriller,
chamber opera presented in large theater - the 2,400-seat Community
Center Theater.

Sound from the six singers and a 13-piece orchestra was so clear
and balanced that I suspect (but couldn't verify) the presence
of acoustic "enhancement," a.k.a., some measure of amplification.
Regardless of venue, technology, etc., as the final scene of Act I ("At
Night") unfolded, Britten's uniquely enchanting music, possibly the most
spellbinding piece Richard Strauss never wrote, swept away questions and
even awareness of anything but the beauty of the moment.

San Francisco Opera Merola and Adler veteran Thomas Glenn is becoming
known increasingly for his portrayal of physicist Robert Wilson in John
Adams' "Doctor Atomic," but his Prologue/Peter Quint at the matinee today
clearly points ad astra.

With a voice of crystalline purity in phrasing and diction (but thanks
Sacramento Opera for the supertitles, anyway), the tenor also has a
thrilling stage presence.  His ghostly evil character (in Chuck Hudson's
self-effacing and clearly communicating direction) received equally
deserved bravos and hisses.  Director and singer are both special in
their ability and willingness to disappear in their work.  There is no
Regietheater or star in Sacramento, "only" good direction and great
performance.

Ditto for Emily Pulley, a "star soprano" singing the ambiguous,
difficult role of the Governess with dedication and restraint.  Pulley
can be as powerful and intense as any singer, but that's not what this
role calls for (except in a few climactic moments), so instead, she was
letter-perfect as the conflicted, eventually agonized woman trying to
find her way through imagined and possible spectres of the unspeakable,
even as she keeps "turning the screw" of pressure on the children "for
their own good."

Boy soprano Brooks Fisher performed the crucial role of Miles with
musical and dramatic excellence.  More mature (and powerful) than a
"girl soprano," Antoni Mendezona was Miles' sister, Flora.  Fenlon Lamb
was straight-arrow strong as the Housekeeper, and to show how accurate
"splendid" is in describing the cast, consider that the relatively small
role of Miss Jessel went to Maria Jette, a singer who is small only in
her waistline measurement.

Gregory Mason's musical preparation, Paul Shortt's simple and effective
set design, fine costumes by Yvette Harding and Gabriella Nance all
deserve kudos.

Withal, the biggest and best surprise of the production was the
teeny-tiny orchestra, from members of Michael Morgan's Sacramento
Philharmonic, in Britten's original orchestration where each member is
a "principal" for the simple reason that he or she is the only member
of the "section." Dan Flanagan was concertmaster and "first violins,"
Erika Miranda represented all the second violins, as James Een violas,
Lea Bonhorst Andaya celli, Thomas Derthick the bass.  First among equals,
Eric Achen's horn, Sandra McPherson's clarinet, and Gregory Mason's
keyboard were covering themselves with glory.  Tod Brody (flute), Thomas
Nugent (oboe), Karen Gale (bassoon), Thomas Rance (percussion), Anna
Maria Mendieta (harp) should be all retained to perform around the
Bay in perpetuity...  if they don't already, as witnessed in "Freeway
Philharmonic" (http://www.sfcv.org/2008/01/15/music-news-41/#anchor2).

Also, if you wish to dwell deep into the work (both James' and Britten's),
you can't do much better than with Rictor Norton's essay at
http://www.infopt.demon.co.uk/henjames.htm.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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