Firth Hall is not a venue that lends itself easily to staging opera, but Sheffield’s semi-professional group Steel Opera transformed it into a rather atmospheric space for this ambitious production.
It was a good decision to stage the performance in the semi-round, with minimal staging and lighting being thoughtfully deployed to great effect - the work of director Gavin Magenty, I would guess. The programme lacked this and other essential information, though: not too impressive at £2 extra.
The singing was by far the standout element of the production: much of it absolutely first class and none less than very good. As Flora, Rosie Williamson was delightful, seemingly carefree and childish but increasingly haunted by the spectral Miss Jessel, sung by the formidable Andrea Tweedale, who was utterly petrifying: this is a compliment!
Chloe Saywell was tear-jerkingly wonderful as the Governess. Playing Miles, Ella Taylor turned her hand to opera for the first time, and on this evidence, who knows what she might achieve in the field? The voice was amazing, and though manifestly not a ten-year-old boy, she carried a beautiful sense of haunted innocence, strident and shattered by turn.
Other singers were less well known to local audiences but deserved their places alongside our city’s finest: Warren Gillespie was a captivating Quint and Imogen Garner a brilliantly judged Mrs Grose.
An unnamed orchestra approached Britten's complex and challenging work valiantly and with much success, making dramatic contributions throughout; but if the singers truly conquered the score, their achievements were not always completely matched by the ensemble. It’s a dark piece, but the dissonance still needs to be tuned properly. Credit to conductor Gavin Usher for marshalling the forces.
With a bit more attention paid to non-production matters - misjudged early applause started from the mixing desk shattered the atmosphere at the end of each act; curtains open onto the landing revealed backstage happenings that could so easily have been concealed - the spell would have been complete.