Opera North Turns The Screw On Britten
Sarah Tynan as The Governess and Tim Gasiorek as Miles. All photos by Tristram Kenton
Returning to Leeds Grand, Opera North's The Turn of the Screw
is a disturbingly dark and accurate rendition of the Henry James novella of the same name.
Originally appearing in serial format in Collier's Weekly magazine - 1998, and described as a 'horror novella' - the work has passed through a few hands but has remained raw and untamed. It is alleged that the story was given to Henry James by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. We can but wonder at the strange conversations these two gentlemen must have had for this little lot to have cropped-up.
Eleanor Dennis as Miss Jessel and Nicholas Watts as Peter Quint
Myfanwy Piper, the wife of the artist John Piper, and a long time friend of the composer Benjamin Britten, wrote the libretto for the opera, and she adhered closely to James's narrative. But what makes this opera so
special is the extra brand of 'spookyness' created by Britten's score. It adds tension, drama and, when required, ambiguity to the action: the sound of children singing a nursery rhyme in a major key whist the performance carries on in a seemingly unrelated minor is quite disturbing, signalling, as it does, the forthcoming corruption of innocence.
Eleanor Dennis as Miss Jessel, Sarah Tynan as The Governess and Nicholas Watts as Peter Quint
Sarah Tynan and Heather Shipp establish their relationship as Children's Governess and Housekeeper allowing their mutual warmth and respect to shine through despite being unsure whether to trust each other.
Jennifer Clark as Flora
Eleanor Dennis (Miss Jessel) and Nicholas Watts (Peter Quint) are their evil and long dead opponents; previous incumbents of the children's house and wicked corrupters of innocence.
Quint is such a multi-faceted character: He’s an evil spirit who’s come to possess the little boy Miles (an excellent Tim Gasiorek). In life, he was an ambitious servant who, it seems, was a bit too big for his britches, and rather too successful at passing-on his DNA to both the lower and upper orders. But Quint is more than that; at the time of writing the original novella there was real fear of an upset of the highly-structured social order and Quint’s character represents that much-feared breakdown.
All these facets can be seen and heard in this performance; Miss Jessel, evidently pregnant by Peter Quint, is his lover and afraid of his dominant nature; Peter Quint remains desperate to control the boy Miles to ensure his domination of the household for years to come.
Flora (Miles' sister) is perhaps a lesser part in the story. Turn of the Screw
was written in the nineteenth century and, after all, she was only a girl... but Jennifer Clark works well to establish the beautiful, charming little couple of siblings that Miles and Flora are purporting to be.
The Orchestra of Opera North were again on top form providing the solid, if creepy, bedrock on which the singers could stand. And finally a mention for the Lighting Designer Matthew Haskins. This is such a key position in creating the haunted house atmosphere and it was well done indeed.
Opera North will be live streaming their production this Friday (7.30pm GMT, Feb 21st 2020). You can watch the entire performance live and for free, here: https://operavision.eu/en/library/performances/operas/turn-screw-opera-north