Junior star turn

For two English youngsters, it is a dream come true to perform the role of Miles in the operatic adaptation of Henry James', "The Turn of the Screw."

Opera370 (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
(photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw is not exactly family entertainment, as will become evident to local audiences on Tuesday, when the production starts an 11-day, seven-show, run at the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv.
The storyline has a definite Hitchcock-esque slant to it, with a governess, entrusted with caring for two small children in a rambling English country estate, soon discovering she has far more to contend with that than merely ensuring that her two young charges, Miles and Flora, are well fed and dressed – she also has to protect them against some particularly nasty specters.
While there may not be too many kids in the audiences at the opera house, there will be a couple on stage every night, with English youngsters 13-year-old Harry Oakes and 12-year-old Dominic Wilson alternating in the role of Miles. Oakes appreciates that it may not be every youngster’s cup of tea – with or without milk.
“There are lots of scary bits in it as the two children become possessed by the ghosts,” he notes. “The suspense just builds and builds. It starts off all happy but then gets sort of spooky to look at. In fact, I found it a bit scary myself to begin with.”
While not quite a seasoned professional, yet, Oakes has already performed in several productions in Germany, as well as in Britain, but says he is happiest with the job in hand.
“This is definitely my favorite opera,” he states. “It is so enjoyable and clever in a musical way. The dramatic side of it is amazing, and the climax is incredible.”
Oakes also says he is in good professional company.
“I love the way [South African director] Alessandro [Talevi] works. He works so efficiently, and with so much detail so everything comes alive in the rehearsals. He is very inspiring.”
Oakes has been in the opera business, or thereabouts, for four or five years now.
“I was about eight or nine when the school I was at recognized I had a good voice, so they arranged for me to have singing lessons. I really enjoyed it and made progress, and I started taking part in choral singing.”
Oakes’s vocal abilities came on in leaps and bounds and he soon won a part in a Royal Opera House production of Jules Massenet’s Werther.
“That’s really how I got started in opera,” says Oakes, adding that while he enjoys other genres he is not, for the moment at least, considering getting into stadium-oriented entertainment.
“No, I’m not thinking of becoming a rock star,” he laughs, “although I listen to all kinds of music – pop, a bit of jazz. It’s a sort of mixture, but not heavy metal.”
Starting an operatic career at such an early age entails certain physiological considerations that older professionals don’t have to bother with.
“Yes, my voice will probably change in about a year and a half or so, and then we’ll just have to see where that takes me,” says Oakes.
For now, the youngster is just happy be in the Middle East, away from the snow of his native Surrey, just south of London.
“We’ve been here since January 9 and it’s been amazing here,” he exclaims. “We’ve had humus and other Israeli food, and we’ve been to the beach – it’s great to be able to go to the beach in February. Perfect.”
Although he is slightly less experienced than his older compatriot, Wilson says he is thoroughly enjoying his role in The Turn of the Screw.
“I like the fact that you always know what you’re going to get out of this opera, although it can be a bit unpredictable too. You don’t know how the scenes are going to be set with a new director.”
Wilson says he was thrown in at the deep end, and had to learn to swim quickly.
“Another boy dropped out and I was offered the role about two weeks before I came here. Working on the opera, to begin with, was a bit nerve-wracking. It’s a powerful opera but you soon get used to it, because everyone here makes you feel welcome, and at home.”
Like Oakes, Wilson appreciates Britten’s compositional skills.
“There is something about his music that gives you the sense that he knows how to get into the singer’s head, and how to anticipate – and give – certain cues to the singers. That makes everything so much more easy.”
Wilson says he is entirely enamored with the operatic world but, in his spare time, also grooves to other very different kinds of sounds and rhythms.
“I love pop music, rap, and reggae and jazz. I don’t think I can sing jazz but we have a jazz band in school and I play the piano. That’s fun too.”
In addition to the young English singers there are plenty of older professionals, both on and off the stage, involved in the forthcoming production. The conductor’s duties will be shared by David Stern and Ethan Schmeisser. The soloist roster features Israeli soprano Noa Danon and British soprano Sinead Mulhern in the role of the governess, tenors Robert McPherson and Michael Bennet, from Israel and Britain respectively, as Prologue and Quint – the latter is one of the shadier characters in the story – with British mezzo-soprano Julie Mellor and her Israeli counterpart Naama Goldman in the role of Mrs. Grose the housekeeper.
Back on the younger side of the lineup, the role of Flora will be filled by 19-year-old Israeli-born sopranos Shira Patshonik and Yarden Susshols. The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion will be on hand to provide instrumental support.
For tickets and more information: (03) 692-777 and www.israel-opera.co.il