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TELL ME / A little Q & A

Here's a rare and offbeat treat: A live, semi-staged, costumed production of Benjamin Britten's opera "The Turn of the Screw." Based on the creepy novel by Henry James, it tells of a governess who goes to a country house to look after two children, Miles and Flora, and finds the place haunted by ghosts and sexual secrets. The opera is being performed twice by the Western New York Chamber Orchestra and soloists: at 8 tonight in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1080 Main St.; and Tuesday at 8 p. m. in King Concert Hall, Fredonia.

Soprano JULIE NEWELL is the producer and director, and Glen Cortese conducts. Admission is $20. For information, call 673-3463.

Newell describes the opera as "Victorian dark fantasy." She told about what happens when horror and opera meet.

>Why this spooky piece?

We selected it because it so perfectly suits this chamber music enterprise. The nature of the orchestral writing is so intense. There's a small number of musicians; I believe there are 13 musicians all together, and each really has to play the music as a soloist. It ends up working best in a Spartan way. It suits itself to be a concert stage opera. It's so ambiguous in the novel as to whether any of the activities are real, or whether they're a dream. People can kind of use their imaginations.

>Is it difficult to stage an opera about the supernatural?

It's challenging to make sure emotionally what's clear to the audience. We've got dead people, and we've got living people, and the living people are aware of the presence of the dead people. It's one of the things that make sense to me, and then I think, gee, if someone is coming to this for the first time, is he going to know what's going on? I'd love to have holograms.

>There is the delicate matter of the boy the opera implies may have been abused.

I've done the opera with a boy soprano. It's a delicate topic. You have to talk to the parents, say, "OK, Mom, Dad, you do understand the implications of the story?" So if it's a problem, they can address it. In this production, Miles is being sung by an adult (Anna Atwater), who looks like a little boy, so you don't have those problems. It's a delicate topic, even in to-day's world.

>This isn't "La Boheme." What would you tell someone seeing this for the first time?

It's going to be very intimate. Often, for the first-time operagoer, "La Boheme" is easily accessible, but it's large and distant and almost overpowering and intimidating. This isn't intimidating, because the characters are modern in their problems. You're going to see them up close, not hidden by a far distance. You can really learn to look at opera from a character's point of view.

>Is there a part of the opera that gets to you?

By the end of the first act, you have, for lack of better term, truly cacophony—19 people all doing something different, and really loud. It gives me goosebumps every time. The music is so colorful. Every bit of it is built around the story. Every note is there, really carefully constructed, to keep uprooting your sense of what's real.

—Mary Kunz Goldman