Review: Turn of the Screw at Glyndebourne

Dark and foreboding, Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw at Glyndebourne will keep you thinking long after the curtain has come down.

The opera, based on the novella by Henry James, is disturbing, haunting, and everything a Gothic ghost story should be.

Anthony Gregory who sings the part of Peter Quint is outstanding. His voice, his stage presence, he is the very depiction of a spooky apparition back from the dead.

The set is incredible. Revival Director Francesca Gilpin keeps original director Jonathan Kent’s use of a giant glass pane which rotates on stage to form the window of the sitting room. It also changes so that the audience are either inside the room with the characters, or outside looking in.

But the most clever use, is when it is lowered to form the ‘lake’ where former governess Miss Jessel (Miranda Keys) lays in a watery grave.

It is here that I should mention the incredible costumes. Miss Jessel who returns to haunt the house, looks as if she has indeed stepped out of a lake. Her costume looks like it is permanently drenched in water, her hair is wet, and she is splattered with mud.

The children, Louise Moseley who plays Flora and Thomas Delgado-Little who plays Miles, sing confidently and have beautiful voices.

The bone chilling song ‘Malo’ which runs through the opera, matches Thomas Delgado-Little’s voice perfectly. His haunting tone sends a chill down your spine.

I would like to talk a little bit about the plot now. The opera follows Governess (Natalya Romaniw) who is asked to look after Miles and Flora by their guardian.

The Governess is uncomfortable about taking the job and explains to us her feeling of foreboding as she sits on the train.

But when she arrives, she fits in perfectly and learns to love the children in her charge.

However, a dark and curious past is alluded to by the house keeper Mrs Grose (Anne Mason), who says something terrible has happened to the children at the hands of former Governess Miss Jessel and valet Peter Quint.

Both are now dead, but the Governess has been seeing their ghosts peer through the window and is terrified the children will once more fall under their evil influence.

But is it really the ‘ghosts’ that are causing the bad behaviour of Miles? Or is it more that the Governess is severely disturbed and through her suffocating and dark obsession to protect the children, she has imagined the ghosts and influenced the children with her hysteria?

The Governess is unquestionably an unreliable narrator. When she asks Flora if she sees the ghost of Miss Jessel at the lake, she says no. At this point I really believed the Governess was mad and had imagined the ghosts herself.

But then later, when she is alone with Miles he points and screams ‘Peter Quint, you devil!’ which would suggest she has been right all along, and the children have also been seeing the ghosts, and have been possessed by them. Or is he saying this, merely because he knows the Governess wants to hear it?

The opera captures James’ analysis of the human psyche perfectly, and just like the novella, leaves you with unanswered questions. He is giving nothing away.

What has happened in the past? Are the ghosts real? Is the Governess mad?

It is up to you to decide.

Leo McFall conducts the Glyndebourne Tour orchestra which was magnificent. The orchestra perform a foreboding, dark, threatening sequence of music, which adds to the mounting atmosphere on stage.

The opera, which is part of the Glyndebourne Tour, runs at the opera house until November 28. It was first performed at Glyndebourne in 2006 and has been revived for the tour.

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