Monday, 22 August 2011

The Turn Of The Screw, Glyndebourne

First to the technology. This is the second live streaming of a Glyndebourne opera production this season (the first was Die Meistersinger), an event distinguished by its accessibility: if you have a good internet connection, you can watch. There are a number of things to be said about this form of seeing an opera but straight away one must acknowledge that The Guardian, hosting the event, have got the basic issue correct - a good quality stream. Factors such as the quality of the screen, speakers and the domestic broadband connection may be out of their hands but The Guardian have triumphed in setting up an arrangement which is clear, in synch and not prey to operating other programmes on the computer or even with the same browser. I used social networking sites during the performance, toggling between tabs on the same browser window without loss of sound or the feed frame freezing (or 'buffering').

Secondly, the performance. The open-plan set seems almost too transparent to accommodate the emergence of spectres from shadows or hidden entrances. In conjunction with some intelligent lighting from Mark Henderson the dissolving of characters into and out of the staging is not only effective but also varied. One also gets the impression of time passing by virtue of the revolve and design nods to seasonal change. Coming of age is part of the drama being worked out in The Turn Of The Screw and the pathos of the passing of time has its own weight besides the extremity of corruption.

The singing is - from what I can tell, and I'll come back to this - good and the playing excellent under Jakub Hrůša. I was surprised to find myself most enchanted, on a purely vocal level by Joanna Songi's Flora, delivering the music clearly, without unnecessary art. Giselle Allen's English (as Miss Jessel) was exemplary amongst the cast. Miah Persson's Governess was a very attentive character study, conspicuously avoiding the igenue babysitter who must stop dreaming of Mr Darcy and grow up hurriedly. Thomas Parfitt impressed as Miles, bringing that underrated quality of opera singing to the stage, i.e. stillness - this particularly noteworthy when seen framed in close-up by a camera.

I'm not sure I really got the claustrophobia that the piece demands to really explode at its denoument. I suspect this is because of the staging, although I remember Deborah Warner's incrementally denuded Barbican theatre production for the itinerant Royal Opera twelve years ago managing the balance of revelation and internal compression with hammerblow effect. Still it was nice to hear the full score after the less delicate (if no less musical) OperaUpClose version currently playing in London.

Of course, for all there is to be said about the accessibility and quality of the experience there is a final word to be said about the simple nature of a relay. There is no substitute for hearing this or any other staged lyric drama via audio-visual media. One was reminded of this in the second scene in which Mrs Grose's first entry was immediate subject to violent level changes by the attentive engineers, coming, as it does, after the children's singing. In the auditorium, not only does one have a natural organic level adjustment to such a moment (i.e. without the white noise of dials being turned) but this also has its own effect within the drama. At a moment such as this the elastic web between performers and audience is at its most subtle. The curious balance between the fragility of the children and the world-weariness of an adult, not necessarily written into the notes but buried somewhere in the music is first heard. All the issues, both positive and negative, surrounding my experience of seeing such a relay in a cinema remain pertinent.

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