New Zealand Opera's The Turn of the Screw is a gripping and unsettling night at the theatre in the hands of Thomas de Mallet Burgess.
The director's penetrating programme essay on the Britten opera speaks of anxiety and the vexed issue of whether it is just a ghost story or, more disturbingly, an imagined Freudian scenario in the mind of a traumatised young heroine?
In 1982, the National Opera of New Zealand mounted this work in a traditional staging but now there are no balconies and staircases. The cat-and-mouse intrigues of its Victorian characters are claustrophobically contained within Tracy Grant Lord's resourceful, sleekly minimal set.
Matthew Marshall's turn-on-a-dime lighting casts sinister silhouettes on curtains that ingeniously transform spaces in which Anna Leese's Governess deals with her young charges and the phantoms of their past.
Leese inhabits her role completely, radiantly lyrical yet utterly natural in dialogue with the children and Patricia Wright's warmly sketched housekeeper.
Alexandros Swallow and Alexa Harwood impress as the young Flora and Miles, in both acting and singing. Having delivered a suave opening prologue, Jared Holt plays the evil Quint to the hilt. He seduces with Britten's florid outpourings and terrifies with his stuttered exhortations to Miles; he meets his match in a duet of bitter recriminations with Madeleine Pierard's marvellous Miss Jessel, whose mezzo shading makes hers a singular voice amongst four sopranos.
Just as Burgess draws the dramatic threads together, without the opera's very specific changes of scenery, conductor Holly Mathieson realises Britten's complex musical weave. With a small band of principals from Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and pianist David Kelly, she deftly illuminates the crucial and inventive instrumentals that link the drama.
The Turn of the Screw is a brave venture, offering no bustling overture, energetic choruses and well-known arias. It makes one curious as to what lies ahead for the company in 2020.
What: The Turn of the Screw
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until Wednesday October 23