Young phantoms of the opera

Seventh graders Nicholas Astafiev-Holmes and Mischa Sella play the lead in CCM’s The Turn of the Screw


Courtesy Mark Lyon (Left) and Kaellin Butts (Right)

Nicholas Astafiev-Holmes (left), ‘24, and Mischa Sella (right), ‘24, sing the lead role of Miles in the opera The Turn of The Screw. Describing the final performance, Astafiev-Holmes said, “It was my favorite because we all bonded for the last time and we all hugged and gave out notes to each other. It was just a fun experience to get to be at closing night and we wanted to give it our best.”

The audience was on their feet giving a long applause, and the two members of junior choir here at WHHS, Mischa Sella, ‘24, and Nicholas Astafiev-Holmes, ‘24, felt truly accomplished as they had just finished the last performance of the opera The Turn of the Screw, a horror novella written by Henry James in 1898 and turned into an opera by Benjamin Britten in 1954, and performed at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) from Nov. 15-18.
The Turn of the Screw is a story about two young children, Miles and Flora, who are haunted by two people who used to work as servants in their house. Sella and Astafiev-Holmes play the lead role of Miles. The opera ran for one weekend and the two boys alternated playing the role, every other day. Miles is the center of attention in this opera as he is fought over by one of the ghosts, Peter Quint, and a new governess who recently was hired to watch the children.
“I was a little kid that was confused and ghosts were getting into my mind and influencing me. I was just a little boy that was confused and did not know and then I end up dying,” Astafiev-Holmes said about his role as Miles in the opera.
Even though the opera ran only one weekend, the two seventh graders had to work long hours to prepare for the performance. With school and homework, that proved to be a struggle to keep up with everything.

It’s for fun, but I’m also thinking about going into a future career with some type of music.”

— Nicholas Astafiev-Holmes, ‘24

“Some nights I had to stay up very late because I had to go to choir sometimes, so that was a struggle, but I ended up balancing it because I have second period study hall so I could just finish homework that I had not finished the night before,” Astafiev-Holmes said.
The long hours of preparation were to make the opera flawless, but even having run through it many times, there was still that feeling of nervousness before the first performance.
“I was definitely scared before the first performance,” Sella said.
However, the two boys say the stress was all worth it because they were able to produce something truly beautiful and rewarding.
“I felt really relieved because I could finally be done and I would not have to worry about it anymore, but I also felt like I wanted to do it a few more times because we didn’t have that many performances,” Sella said.
The two boys are sopranos, which is unique even for their age, meaning they have a lot of time to do more great things as their voices develop. Sella already had played a minor part in a previous opera, and Sella will also be featured in an upcoming opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra Dec. 21-23.
“I am excited to be in another opera and start the whole process over, but I do not know much about that opera yet,” Sella said.
Both say they are singing in operas “just for fun” but after landing the lead role in this opera and both looking to continue, considering they are so young, singing in operas like these could turn into a lot more than “just fun.”
“It’s for fun, but I’m also thinking about going into a future career with some type of music,” Astafiev-Holmes said.