Friday, December 9, will provide the first opportunity of the season to attend a fully-staged full-length opera production at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). Ironically, the first performance will overlap with one of the most impressive achievements by SFCM graduates. Those who will find this a hard choice to make may take comfort in the fact that the opera will be given a second performance.
That opera will be Benjamin Britten’s Opus 54 The Turn of the Screw. Myfanwy Piper prepared the libretto based on Henry James’ novella of the same title, and the opera was structured in two acts with a prologue. This is a bold effort to honor the way James had structured his text, deliberately keeping the reader in doubt as to just who is narrating this tale. (The screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote for The Innocents, on the other hand, chose to “stick to the story,” ceding the “authority of the narrator” to the camera. While the film has many virtues, fidelity to James’ intentions is not one of them!)
Without spoiling anything, it is important to note that Piper and Britten put significant thought into not only presenting but also casting the prologue in preparation for the plot that will unfold over the course of the following two acts. It is just as important to observe that the entire unfolding has been realized musically in theme-and-variations form. The theme (whose intervals oscillate back and forth in a “screw-like” pattern) is stated in the opening scene; and all following scenes account for fifteen variations. Britten scored the music for one-to-a-part performances of first and second violin, viola, cello, bass, flute (doubling on piccolo and bass flute), oboe (doubling on cor anglais), clarinet (doubling on bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, harp, percussion, and piano (doubling on celesta). However, for all its admirable cerebral qualities, the opera itself offers some of Britten’s most intense approaches to the dramatic qualities of his source text.
The Turn of the Screw will be given two performances, the first at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 9, and the second at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 11. SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station, and the performance will take place in the Concert Hall. Details have not yet been released regarding either the casting or the production team. Both performances will be free, but reservations will be required. Reservations may be made online through separate Google Forms pages created for the Friday and Sunday performances.
That Friday evening will also be the date for the second concert in the 2016–2017 season of One Found Sound (OFS). This ensemble was conceived as a collaborative group with a repertoire selected democratically by all members, and its four founders knew each other as SFCM students. As has been the case in the past, the program for this concert will highlight solo performances by orchestra members and well as non-standard groups of players. The featured soloists will be Jesse Barrett on cor anglais and Brad Hogarth on trumpet in a performance of Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City,” a ten-minute composition based on incidental music that Copland wrote for a performance of a play of the same name by Irwin Shaw. Copland scored the two soloists to play against the accompaniment of a string ensemble. The “non-standard group” will be a double wind quintet (with a cor anglais in one of the two groups instead of an oboe) performing George Enescu’s Opus 14 in D major. The program will conclude with the full ensemble playing Zoltán Kodály’s suite entitled Dances of Galánta.
This performance will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, December 9. The venue will be Heron Arts, located in SoMa at 7 Heron Street on the block between 7th Street and 8th Street. General admission tickets are being sold for $20 with a $45 VIP rate for reserved seating that includes an invitation to an OFS open rehearsal. Tickets may be purchased online in advance through an Eventbrite event page.