The Turn Of The Screw
Review by Willard Manus

As part of the forthcoming Benjamin Britten centennial in 2013, Los Angeles Opera recently mounted a production of the British composer's operatic adaptation of the Henry James short story, THE TURN OF THE SCREW. The company last visited the opera in 1991 with Jonathan Miller directing; this time around Jonathan Kent was in charge of the production, which was first created for Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

THE TURN OF THE SCREW is an opera in sixteen scenes, scored for a chamber orchestra (led, in this case, by James Conlon). Each of the scenes is prefaced by a variation on a theme stated at the story's onset; the variation is amplified and tightened as each scene unfolds. Hence the title, the turning of the screw.

The libretto (by Myfawny Piper) focuses on a Governess (Patricia Racette) who travels to Bly, where she has been employed to care for a widower's two children, Flora (Ashley Emerson) and Miles (Michael Kepler Meo). A housekeeper (Ann Murray) greets her and all is cheerful and upbeat, until Miles is expelled from school and unexpected things begin to happen at home. The ghost of Peter Quint (William Burden), a former employee, appears. Quint, we learn, abused not only the former governess, Miss Jessel (Tamara Wilson), but the children as well.

The ghost of Miss Jessel appears in scene seven and is spotted by both The Governess and the little angel Flora. Violated innocence is a favorite Britten theme; THE TURN OF THE SCREW explores it with mounting power and suspense. It isn't clear whether the ghosts actually exist or are merely imagined by the sexually repressed governess. Only one thing is certain: evil has crept into the house and at least one child will fall victim to it.

Kent's production has been entrusted to revival director Francesca Gilpin, who has opted to go against type where the opera's design is concerned. Instead of a dark, foreboding haunted house, we are given an open, sterile glass box with bland furniture by Ikea. It's hard to believe that evil has taken root here, although orchestra and singers do their best to mitigate the problem. Britten's score is dynamic and powerful, especially when plumbing the depths and shadows of the human psyche.

Among other recent L.A. Opera highlights were solo concerts by the Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the German-born tenor Jonas Kaufman. The latter, in a program of lieder by Schumann and Straus, so thrilled the audience that it demanded five encores. Kaufman, who was aided by pianist Helmut Deutsch, can be seen on May 14 in a live transmission from the Met to select local movie houses. He sings his first Siegmund in Wagner's Die Walkure.

Hvorostovsky, accompanied by Ivati Ilja, was equally charismatic and appealing in his full-throated interpretations of songs by Faure, Taneyev and Tchaikovsky. He sang three encores, concluding with the Siberian folk song, Farewell Happiness.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-972-8001 or visit