The Turn of the Screw/The Queen of Spades, Hungarian State Opera, Budapest

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The Independent Culture

Fifty years after the Venice premiere of Britten's 1954 operatic masterpiece, the Hungarian State Opera has finally plucked up the courage to stage The Turn of the Screw.

Fifty years after the Venice premiere of Britten's 1954 operatic masterpiece, the Hungarian State Opera has finally plucked up the courage to stage The Turn of the Screw. What's more, having inexplicably shunned the work throughout the Communist years, it has entrusted the premiere to its most innovative and forward-looking younger-generation director, Balazs Kovalik, who has produced the kind of bold, cutting-edge production akin to, say, the Scottish Opera Ring or the Almeida Festival.

Kovalik, has made his own icily clipped new translation. He stages the Screw in the round, inasmuch as the audience sits onstage, adjacent to Antal Csaba's provocative set, which faces us, full frontal, with eight nude statues of Flora and Miles.

All of Mari Benedek's designs are white: the statues, costumes, the curtain hangings shifted somewhat awkwardly to fashion new acting areas, by turns claustrophobic and spacious; the schoolroom table, the piano, the bed, the tennis rackets with which Ottokar Klein's beguiling but never quite persuasively sinuous white Quint and Gabriella Fodor's vocally stronger albino Miss Jessel play their verbal chess-game in the Act II opening colloquy.

And - taking a leaf from Kovalik's elemental new Bluebeard's Castle - the action takes place in an enclosing pool of water. It's as if we were witnessing a kind of psychologically stylised Greek drama, where characters represent some quasi-Jungian archetype. Not all the imagery communicates - the milk the boy sups from Quint's hands, or the strand of trickling golden honey he laps up as Quint inveigles Miles, in Myfanwy Piper's libretto, with seducer's gold.

There are some plum performances in both the cast and conductor Peter Oberfrank's lucidly detailed rearstage orchestra. Atilla Ivanics's Miles and Nora Babay's equally young Flora caught the notes and provocative intonation to near-perfection. Eszter Wierdl, a lovely, crystal-clear emerging Hungarian soprano, fused determination with malleability as an emotionally piqued and ravaged young Governess. Topping the team were Denes Gulyas's teasing Narrator and Etelka Csavlek's Mrs Grose.

Budapest Opera's rival season's showpiece was the Moscow Bolshoi director Vadim Milkov's new staging of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, impressively set and costumed by Viktor and Rafael Volsky. Neither Andras Molnar's Hermann nor Katalin Meszoly's Countess always delivered the needed vocal stamina: most memorable were Bela Perencz's ringingly toned Yeletsky, Tamas Busa's clamatory Tomsky and the attractive Lisa and Paulina of Eva Batori and Andrea Melath.



'The Turn of the Screw', Erkel Theatre, Budapest (+36 (1) 353 0170) 18 and 23 May

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