UI School of Music to perform Turn of the Screw


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When a single spotlight began to burn in the Englert Theatre, the audience's gaze became fixed on a lone man standing on stage. Two 8-foot cobblestone walls separated by an intimidating black wrought-iron gate joined him. From the orchestra pit below him crept eerie piano notes, and he began to sing.

This weekend, the University of Iowa School of Music will perform Benjamin Britten's famous opera, The Turn of the Screw, based on Henry James' gothic novel. There will be three performances: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Jan. 29. Admission is $20 general public, $15 for seniors above 65, $10 for youth under 17, and $5 for students with valid IDs.

Janet Brehm Ziegler, a doctoral candidate studying voice performance at the UI, plays the governess in the production directed by Allen Hicks.

"I am most excited about being able to portray the governess as Dr. Hicks has allowed me to," Brehm Ziegler said about her first lead role in a contemporary opera. "Being able to experience the governess' emotions and feelings has been an absolute gift. [Dr. Hicks] has allowed us to decide how to portray the characters, and it is very exciting."

Hicks said a committee in the School of Music decides upon the production every year. But had it been up to him, he would have also chosen The Turn of the Screw.

"It is a fantastic work of the 20th century," he said. "It is very challenging both musically and dramatically, and it is a great learning experience. With regards to 20th-century music, it has a place in the opera canon. Because of that, if these kids decided to pursue a professional career, they will likely run into it again."

Not all members of the cast are students at the university.

Miles, a young boy in the story, is played by brothers Daniel and Andrew Burgess. The pair auditioned for the part after their piano teacher told them that singing would help their skills with the instrument.

"It was hard work, we had about a week to prepare, and we got the part," 12-year old Daniel said. "I think it's a great opera; the music is incredible."

The production stays true to the music written by Britten in the 1950s, but the group has taken some liberties with the visual presentation.

"You'll never see two productions that are exactly the same," Hicks said. "It all depends on what the stage director and design staff decide and find most important in telling the story."

And the story they tell is a spooky one.

"It gets a little creepy," Brehm Ziegler said. "Even though it may not be real, it feels real because the theater magic takes over."

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