Operatic ghost story ‘The Turn of the Screw’

Courtesy of Seattle Opera.
Renderings by Deborah Trout. Courtesy of Seattle Opera

In Benjamin Britten’s ghost story of an opera based on the Henry James novella of the same name, a governess is hired to care for two orphaned children in a remote mansion. For Seattle Opera’s new production, director Peter Kazaras bumped the story forward in time from its original Victorian setting to the early days of WWII, when the London Blitz saw scads of British children shipped to safety in the countryside.

For costume designer Deborah Trout, who works in theater and opera and teaches at the University of Washington, storytelling begins with color. “What I love to do is figure out how we’re going to represent this psychological world, and color is one of the biggest emotional players,” she says. “Color hits our emotions more immediately than even era so it’s always a factor, whether it’s a comedy, tragedy or a ghost story.”

For Screw, Trout says she’s punching up the cool tones, “blues and greens and lots of bruised, plummy purples,” while the children, Miles and Flora, and the governess are tied together in a color story of light blues and corn yellow, with the governess popping just a bit in pinks. The characters Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, on the other hand, tell a darker color story. Says Trout, “If you think of a soft, pastel summer day versus a dark, stormy afternoon, those live in very different worlds.”

Oct. 13–27
McCaw Hall