The Turn of the Screw - Benjamin Britten - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

I saw Benjamin Britten's creepy opera The Turn of the Screw at ROH with the ROH Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding. The Libretto was by Myfanwy Piper, written after Henry James' novella. Deborah Warner staged the opera.

The Prologue & Peter Quint  - Ian Bostridge Governess - Joan Rodgers Miles - Julian Leang Flora - Caroline Wise Mrs. Grose - Jane Henschel Miss Jessel - Vivian Tierney

And the story goes... . ACT 1. An unknown man tells of a woman hired as governess for two children in the country. The sole condition of her employment is that their only relative, a young man-about-town, not be troubled by any further communication from her. Overcome by the gentleman's charm, the woman accepts the position. On her journey into the country the woman begins to have doubts, but her worries are happily dispelled on her arrival at Bly. The housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, is in the midst of coaching the children, Miles and Flora, on how to behave when meeting their new governess. The governess is immediately taken with them. The children rush her off on a tour of the house and grounds. Life runs smoothly at Bly until the governess receives a letter from Miles' school informing her that he has been expelled. Shocked, she asks the housekeeper if she has ever known Miles to be bad; Mrs. Grose speaks up in the boy's defence. The children playing interrupt their discussion. Enchanted by their innocence, the governess resolves to say nothing to Miles about the letter.

The governess walks through the gardens in rapt reflection on the beauty of her charges and their surroundings. She spies an unknown man staring at her. Unsettled she runs back to the house. The children are playing when the governess calls them away. Alone in the drawing room, she sees the unknown man again. She describes the intruder to Mrs. Grose, who identifies him as Peter Quint, a former valet to the children's uncle. Quint had been left in charge of the household and, according to Mrs. Grose, abused his position. The previous governess, Miss Jessel, had been forced to leave and had sequentially died. Likewise, Quint was killed in an accident. The horrified governess fears that Quint has returned for the children and she resolves to protect them.

During the children's lesson, Miles begins to practise his Latin and recites a mnemonic unfamiliar to her. On being questioned, he claims, "I found it. I like it. Do you?"Later, Flora and the governess sit at the end of the lake. The governess becomes aware of a woman standing on the far shore watching them. She is convinced that the woman is Miss Jessel and the Flora has seen her too. In the evening, the powerful imaginative force of Quint and Miss Jessel draw the sleeping children into the night garden. The governess and Mrs. Grose frantic with worry, finally discover the children and send them back to bed. Miles says to the governess, "You see, I am bad; I am bad. Aren't I?"

ACT 2. Peter Quint and Miss Jessel lock in a bitter colloquy of reproach and troubled passions. Meanwhile, the governess feels suffocated by a sense of helplessness against the evil surrounding her. Sunday service is beginning at the local church. As the organ sounds, Flora and Miles play a word game based on the Benedict. The children's playing delights Mrs. Grose but disturbs the governess, who believes ghosts possess them. Mrs. Grose suggests that they all would benefit by joining the congregation inside and bundles Flora into church. Before following, Miles inquires that he will be returning to school and asks the governess whether his uncle thinks what she thinks. The governess, upset by the boy's implied challenge to her authority, vows to leave Bly immediately. She runs back to the house to pack while the children are still at prayers. An overpowering sense of Miss Jessel's presence arrests her at the doorway to the schoolroom. She finds the courage to challenge the ghost and drive it from the room. But the growing danger convinces her that she must not abandon the children. Instead, she writes a letter to her employer beseeching him to see her at once.

Miles sits in his bedroom before undressing for bed. The governess warns the boy of her letter in an attempt to force him to confess his relationship to the ghosts. Quint's voice orders the boy to stay silent. Miles steals the governess' letter.

Later, Miles entertains the two women with a piano recital, while Flora sits playing at the cat's cradle. He governess confides to Mrs. Grose that she has written a letter. The housekeeper eventually nods off and with the governess' attention distracted by Miles' surprising virtuosity, Flora seizes the opportunity to slip away undetected. The women find Flora by the lake. The governess accuses Flora of going there to meet Miss Jessel. The governess believes she sees the ghost and hears it's voice appealing the child not to betray their friendship, but Mrs. Grose does not see or hear a thing. Flora lashes out at the governess; "I can't see anybody! I can't see anything! Nobody, Nothing!!! "The girl pleads with Mrs. Grose to take her away. The governess, devastated, realises that Flora is lost to her forever. Before leaving to deliver Flora back to her uncle, the housekeeper warns the governess that her letter has not been delivered. The governess steels herself away for a confrontation with Miles. The boy confesses to stealing the letter, but the governess presses him to name his associate. Quint makes his presence ever more felt.

It is an opera with Prologue and two Acts. It is based on Henry James' ghost story about children under the influence of dead servants, who are presumed by their governess to have lead them (perhaps sexually) astray. Britten's score made my spin tingle - quite terrifying. Warner sees it as bad parenthood and growing up rather than paedophilia. This production has a Victorian setting. Julian Leang, aged 13 (from St Paul's Cathedral School) and Caroline Wise, age 12 (from the Centre Stage of Performing Arts), were brilliant. Ian Bostridge's chiselled features made perfect casting as the ghostly Quint.

I was sitting next to a young girl from Russia and during the interval I gave her a tour of the ROH and discussed with her the many things to see and do in London. Her name was Irina and she gave me a memento to remember her and the lovely evening we shared together. Wasn't it so sweet of her!!!


Verinha Ottoni.


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