A group of young singers ignored the ‘quiet please’ signs in Manchester this week, as they took to the library floor with an opera with goose bumps guaranteed.
Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is well-renowned as one of the opera world’s creepiest works, an appropriate choice then for a post-Halloween performance by Manchester Opera Ensemble.
The piece, based on Henry James 1898 novel, tracks the ghostly discoveries of a governess who encounters two malevolent spectres determined to drown the innocence of her young charges.
The ensemble is latest addition to Manchester’s classical music scene, formed by tenor and musical director Timothy Langston in late 2014.
In order to provide opportunities for young singers to explore how to bring opera to a wider audience, and also to fill the gap in the Manchester music scene for regular and affordable opera.
The opera was performed in Manchester Central Library in a curved traverse setting, using minimal scenery but using a large screen projection to give the audience a sense of place.
The performers were mostly RNCM graduates, in the process of establishing their names as some of the voices of the future.
There was no lack of vocal maturity from the ensemble however, with soprano Chloe Saywell giving a stand out performance as the haunted Governess and the assured pairing of Alex Banfield and Stephanie Stanway impressing as the spiteful spirits.
Director Timothy Langston told MM that his interpretation of the opera aimed to unsettle.
He said: “We have tried to ask questions about the relationships of all of the characters and to leave the audience jarred and confused, rather than satisfied that they have a clear idea.
“We hope that each audience member will experience the story in a different way, and that people will be able to take about a unique viewpoint of the story.”
The director said that while his fledgling company does not yet have the budget for The Woman in Black style theatricality he believed his re-telling would spook the audience in a different way.
He said: “We have gone for psychological fright and themes of abuse, sex and the fragility of the mind.
“There aren’t many ‘BOO!’ moments, but we believe that we have found a disturbing and powerful reading of this terrifying story.”
Mr Langston praised the support of Manchester Central Library for his venture.
“The staff there has been tirelessly helpful and the unique venue has offered some engaging challenges and opportunities,” he said.
“We hope to return in the future as their passion for our project has been considerable.”
The Manchester Opera Ensemble will return with a tour of churches in Greater Manchester including St. Ann’s, Macclesfield St. Michael’s, Christ Church Didsbury, Tottington and St. Bart’s Wilmslow.
And are hoping their double bill of comic operas will appeal to a wide Mancunian audience.
“We believe this shows are accessible to anyone who just wants a laugh and there are lots of opportunity to catch us, with tickets at £10 to £20, it’s a cheap evening and well worth the visit,” said Mr Langston.
One thing seems clear; this enterprising group will not be scared easily.