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SCRUTINY | Opera5’s Returns To Live Performance With Riveting Production Of Britten’s The Turn Of The Screw

By Albert Wong on June 14, 2024

L-R: Kate Fogg & MacKenzie Sechi in Opera5’s production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (Photo: Emily Ding); Bri Jessel (below) in Opera5’s production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (Photo: Emily Ding)
L-R: Kate Fogg & MacKenzie Sechi in Opera5’s production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (Photo: Emily Ding); Bri Jessel (below) in Opera5’s production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (Photo: Emily Ding)

Opera5: The Turn of the Screw, Benjamin Britten. Amanda Smith, director, with: Mala Weissberg; Patricia Yates; MacKenzie Sechi; Paige Robinson; Kate Fogg; Bri Jones. Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, June 13, 2024 — repeats June 14 & 15 (with a different cast). Tickets & info here.

Opera5 returns to live performance with a riveting production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. Originally scheduled to be performed in June 2020, this imaginative production was well worth the wait.

Thursday’s production, which I attended, was performed by the six interns from the Opera5 Opera McGill Intern Program, a training program designed to engage emerging artists in all aspects of opera production.

“Aside from rehearsing and performing, our interns have had assignments as assistant directors, assistant stage managers, and shadowing designers, administrators, and music staff,” remarks Rachel Krehm, Opera5’s General Director in response to an email inquiry.

These interns may have had additional assignments, but they were completely dedicated to their performance this evening. The singing was excellent, and their voices complemented each other very well as an ensemble. They were fully committed to the acting of the characters.

At its simplest, the opera is a story about an unnamed Governess who arrives at the haunted Bly manor to take care of two parentless children.

Paige Robinson and Mala Weissberg, who played the children, Flora and Miles, respectively, performed with the required innocence of youth and displayed their vulnerability to the forces of apparitions. Their movements on stage were simple, but very effective. One can imagine them casting spells and performing paganistic rituals.

-R: Mala Weissberg, Kate Fogg & Patricia Yates in Opera5’s production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (Photo: Emily Ding)
L-R: Mala Weissberg, Kate Fogg & Patricia Yates in Opera5’s production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (Photo: Emily Ding)

Kate Fogg, who played the Governess, and supported by the housekeeper Mrs. Grose, played by MacKenzie Sechi, gave strong performances as dutiful caregivers. The Governess arrives at the beginning in a state of insecurity, wondering if the children will like her. At the end, she is undaunted as she tries to save Miles. Fogg gave great insight into the inner workings of the Governess.

The two ghosts, Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, performed by Bri Jones and Patricia Yates, respectively, delivered haunting performances. As ghostly figures, their movements on stage were not as prominent. As such, they used their voices effectively to intensify the drama. Particularly remarkable was Yates’ offstage, vocal entry as Peter Quint. The quality of her tenor voice has an uncanny likeness to recordings of Peter Pears, who premiered the role of Peter Quint. It has a wonderful richness and colour.

The 13-member orchestra, conducted by Evan Mitchell, was exact and achieved the right balance whether supporting the singers, or making musical commentary on the action on stage. The woodwind instruments, with a number of doublings, figure prominently in Britten’s score. Various combinations, such as bass clarinet (Peter Stoll) and flute (Amelia Lyon), created an ethereal atmosphere. Also noteworthy was Ari Cohen Mann‘s poignant English horn duet with Miles in “Malo” in which there was clarity and directness, but was also emotionally charged.

The performance was held in the Mainspace of Theatre Passe Muraille. The entire space, which consists of two levels, was used to great effect. One powerful moment was at the end of Act One, in which Miles and Flora are at centre stage. Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, the two ghosts, are up in the corners of the second level in front, while Mrs. Grose and the Governess are at the rear balcony. Their ensemble singing was sonically immersive, and the visual effect was very evocative. The lighting design by Noah Feaver was beautiful and effective.

After a hiatus from live performance, it was great to see the creative work by Opera5 in person again. The audience this evening was very responsive to this operatic thriller of a production.

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Albert Wong
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