Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sit down for The Turn of the Screw—if you dare!

Seattle Opera marketing image for The Turn of the Screw. Photo by Philip Newton

By Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor

As Halloween approaches, the movies aren’t the only place for a thrill in a darkened theater. This October, a ghost story will come alive through live music at Seattle Opera’s The Turn of the Screw directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Maestro Constatin Trinks. Set in an old mansion in the countryside, Benjamin Britten’s opera depicts a tale of haunted children that fans of Stranger Things, The Shining, and The Sixth Sense would love.

An unnamed Governess moves to an English country house to take care of two siblings, Miles and Flora, only to experience supernatural goings-on, and ominous whispers about the past. As she gets to know her young charges the Governess becomes increasingly convinced they are suffering some form of demonic possession. Britten dials up audiences’ adrenaline by leaving no easy answers: Are Peter Quint and Miss Jessel actual ghosts, returned from the dead, or are they products of the Governess's hysteria? Are the children demonically possessed, neglected victims of abuse, or just normal mischievous kids? Britten was fascinated by the mysteries of human behavior. What makes people act as they do? What hidden forces compel their choices? His operas (The Rape of Lucretia, Billy Budd, and Peter Grimes to name a few) were filled with moral ambiguities and loss of innocence, and The Turn of the Screw is a perfect example.

Britten's operas are haunted by moral ambiguities and loss of innocence, not unlike classic movies such as The Shining and other eerie horror films and TV shows that place children at the center of a dark, supernatural plot. 
Alternating in the role of Miles are two 13-year-old boy-sopranos making Seattle Opera debuts: Rafi Bellamy Plaice of England, who was named the BBC Radio 2 Chorister of 2017, and Forrest Wu of Seattle who sings with the Northwest Boychoir. Inspired by the ethereal qualities of the adolescent voice, Britten’s operas often gave children opportunities to sing just as much as their adult co-stars.

“This piece offers a chance to see incredible young singers holding their own with adult professionals—not something you see every day in opera,” said Aren Der Hacopian, Seattle Opera’s Director of Artistic Administration and Planning, who helped cast the show. “When a storyteller adds a plot twist to create tension, this can be referred to as a ‘turn of the screw.’ These accomplished young artists play a big role in creating that scary and suspenseful experience.”

The cast also includes four singers returning to McCaw Hall. Cuban American soprano Elizabeth Caballero, who most recently sang here as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni (2014), returns as the Governess. Frequent performer on The Metropolitan Opera stage Maria Zifchak, Ragonde in Seattle Opera’s Count Ory (2015), returns as the housekeeper Mrs. Grose. Starring as the two ghosts-in-residence, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are Ben Bliss and Marcy Stonikas respectively. British/Iranian soprano Soraya Mafi makes her Seattle Opera debut as Miles’ sister, Flora.

Rafi Bellamy Plaice (left) and Forrest Wu (right) make Seattle Opera mainstage singing debuts as Miles in The Turn of the Screw. 
The Turn of the Screw opens Saturday, Oct. 13 and runs through Saturday, Oct. 27. 
Tickets are available online at