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 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
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.
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
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
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!!!