A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Jan 27, 2010
Finding the Dark Side
We tend to think of ghost stories around Halloween, but there’s something about the bitter cold and grayness of late January that makes a haunting tale appealing this time of year. So it’s more than appropriate that Madison Opera presents The Turn of the Screw tomorrow through Sunday at Overture Center’s Playhouse.
The chamber opera of 1954 is based on a Henry James novel by the same name first published in 1898. The story tells the tale of a young governess and the two children she cares for in a remote—and haunted—country house.
One of the ghosts is the estate’s former valet, Peter Quint, played by Madisonian Gregory Schmidt. The tenor recently took some time out to answer a few questions about his upcoming performance.
What made you want to be a part of The Turn of the Screw? And what attracted you to the role of Peter Quint?
Peter Quint is quite a departure from the other roles I sing. As a lyric tenor, I’m usually the romantic lead, not the villain in the story! But I’ve always loved the music of Benjamin Britten, and especially his operas. So singing Peter Quint, especially under the baton of a Britten specialist like Maestro John DeMain is a thrilling opportunity.
What are the challenges of this role? What are the greatest opportunities it affords?
The music itself is quite demanding to sing, but that’s where the greatest rewards lie. Quint has some achingly beautiful musical lines, and the artist’s challenge and joy is to bring that music to life as the composer intended.
The opera is quite spooky. Do you like this genre of operas, plays and films?
I do actually enjoy psychological dramas, especially ones in which the viewers are challenged to make their own decisions about the morality and motivations of the characters. And who doesn’t like a good ghost story?
What’s it like playing an evil spirit? How have you prepared for this role?
It’s very interesting. Quint is ostensibly evil, but he’s also charming and seductive. I’m enjoying exploring the dark side of the character, but sometimes it’s hard to shake off that mood after a full day of inhabiting the character, especially during a dark Wisconsin January.
In preparing this role, I read as much as I could about the composer, the opera and the novel by Henry James, on which the opera was based. I also spent time with my singing coach to prepare for the technical challenge of the music.
I understand you’re based in Madison now. What’s it like working on a production in the city where you live?
That’s a very good question. The majority of my singing work takes me away from Madison, so I get into a routine of living out of my suitcase. It almost seems strange to finish a day of rehearsal and go to my own home instead of a hotel room. Working at Overture Center helps me see Madison through the eyes of a visitor, and I realize all over again what a beautiful and special city we have.
What are your goals for this opera?
I hope to savor the beauty of the music, and to realize the composer’s vision for the character of Peter Quint; to make him, in Henry James’ words, “clever, good-looking … impudent, assured, spoiled, depraved” and, yes, scary.
Madison Opera’s production of The Turn of the Screw runs January 28–31 at Overture Center. For tickets or more information, call 258.4141 or visit madisonopera.org.
Photo courtesy of Gregory Schmidt.