Not only for the prostrate bodies of Miles and his Governess this was also the final curtain for Bury Court Opera, of inestimable value to young singers for twelve years. About its closure there is no ambiguity, although Ella Marchment’s direction made the story’s ambiguities explicit from the start. An androgynous narrator – taken flamboyantly by Andrew Dickinson and characterised in Victorian music-hall style – may well be a far-cry from Henry James’s 1898 original but its ambivalence pointed to the essential collision between good and evil, innocence and knowledge, freedom and restriction. These contradictions were vividly realised. A single set (frequently half-lit) kitted out with brass bedstead, flickering oil lamps and writing desk, doubled for the schoolroom, children’s bedroom and Governess’s quarters.
Assured singing from a cast near the beginning of their careers (Harry Hetherington making his professional debut) made for a fine achievement, success arising from mostly believable portrayals that held the attention. Alison Rose as the Governess met the vocal challenges head-on and her nervous anxiety convinced. Her exchanges with Mrs Grose were affecting, and she delivered a moving rendition of the letter-writing scene. But earnestness became a default facial expression allowing little room for emotions to develop. Emily Gray excelled as the naive and over-burdened Grose and brought ample tones and a strong presence, judging to perfection duty and doubt within the developing nightmare.
Hetherington’s Miles was a portrayal of sustained credibility – vocally secure, abundantly musical and compelling in his outward charm, never quite hiding his growing psychological turmoil. In the schoolroom he produced one of the most-disturbing moments singing his ‘Malo’ song while an unearthly presence controlled his right-arm as he wrote across the blackboard – chilling in its gothic fantasy. A pure-voiced Jennifer Clark as his sister Flora managed to tame her vocal talent to match Miles and impressed as a young, sometimes petulant, child. Andrew Dickinson and Daisy Brown were a well-matched pair of ghosts with nothing phantom-like in the way Quint made love to Miss Jessel – more physically present than in James’s novella and consequently less hauntingly sinister.
From the thirteen instrumentalists of CHROMA, Paul Wingfield coaxed playing of depth and sensitivity, alert to changing moods. It was an evening to cherish from a company which will be fondly remembered.