“Turning” a New Page

Image: Mood board designed by Andreas Mitisek

Andreas Mitisek's innovative approach to opera takes center stage at UCI with Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw, promising a hauntingly immersive experience that pushes the boundaries of traditional opera

By Chiara Guastella

Andreas Mitisek, renowned for his work as the former director of the Long Beach Opera (LBO), joins the UCI opera and symphony as the guest director for a Benjamin Britten classic, The Turn of the Screw, a chilling ghost story with a twist. Adapted from Henry James’ novella, Britten’s opera follows an enigmatic governess as she confronts malevolent spirits in a grand estate, navigating a world where reality and the supernatural intertwine. 

“I admire the music of Benjamin Britten, especially his opera settings,” said Mitisek. “He adds a breathtaking layer of emotional undercurrent to each scene. He deepens the experience of the story like only music can do. Britten's opera adaptation, which premiered in 1954, beautifully captures the eerie atmosphere and psychological complexities of the original story. Through his evocative music and haunting melodies, Britten brings the characters and their inner turmoil to life, heightening the sense of unease and mystery.” 

During Mitisek’s time at LBO, he conducted, stage directed and designed over 100 productions while refreshing views towards opera. Mitisek is known for challenging the approach to directing opera through his use of unconventional spaces as the backdrop for many of his projects. His most well-known performances involve the suffocating nature of a parking garage in his production of Grigori Frid’s Diary of Anne Frank and an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Ricky Ian Gordon’s retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice. During his time at LBO, Mitisek helped to increase memberships by over 500 percent.

Considering his background in creating visually intriguing and vibrant sets for his productions, Mitisek shared his approach and visions for The Turn of the Screw: “[It] is a captivating and haunting tale that has attracted readers and audiences alike for over a century. The opera leaves many artistic entry ways, and we are exploring the boundaries of perception and reality as it is manifesting itself in the story. I work also as a video designer for this production, besides being the production designer, allowing me to incorporate a lot of atmospheric visual support of the mood and, of course, the ghostly part of the opera.”

Touching more on the psychological and spectral elements of the show, Mitisek stated, “James' novella is renowned for its ambiguity and psychological depth. It explores themes of repressed desires, the power of the imagination, and the blurred boundaries between reality and illusion. One of the striking lines are sung by the ghosts in their duet: ‘Cheat the careful watching eyes. The ceremony of innocence is drowned.’ The narrative is filled with suspense and tension, making it a gripping read that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. We are left with more questions than answers. There are things known, and there are things unknown, and in between, are the doors of perception.”

Andreas Mitisek was artistic and general director of Long Beach Opera (since 2003) and held the same position at Chicago Opera Theater (from 2012-2017). Mitisek served on the Board of Directors for OPERA AMERICA, the national service organization for U.S. opera companies. He was honored by the Chicago Tribune in 2014 as the Chicagoan of the Year in Classical Music. He has been named by Opera News as one of the 25 people that will be a major force in the field of opera in the coming decade. The Chicago Reader included him in the 2013 Top 50 Chicago People. Mitisek was named LA Tastemaker by LA Times Magazine in 2009, Arts Leader of the Year by the Long Beach Arts Council in 2009 and was highlighted as one of the “2012 People” by LA Weekly.

Mr. Mitisek works has been featured at the Wiener Volksoper, the Komische Oper in Berlin, the festival "Wien Modern", the Wiener Konzerthaus and Musikverein and has taken him to companies in Spain, Tokyo and South America. He is also sought after as a guest conductor in North America, leading productions for the New York City Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Vancouver Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Hawaii Opera Theater and Opera Theatre of St. Louis, among others.

Andreas Mitisek will be collaborating with UCI opera and symphony students for The Turn of The Screw. Mitisek spoke about his experience collaborating with UCI students and faculty; Mitisek noted, “It’s been a great process. This is quite a challenging work — especially musically, with limited rehearsal time — and for most singers it’s their first opera experience. I am impressed how they have been able to find their way into their roles and fill them with imagination and conviction.” 

The Turn of the Screw will have two performances, Saturday, May 11 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 12 at 2 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Tickets are on sale at arts.uci.edu/tickets and through the CTSA Box Office. 

Posted Date: 
Friday, April 26, 2024