Benjamin Britten

The Turn of the Screw

11 August – 28 August 2011
Glyndebourne Festival 2011

It is indeed ‘a curious story’, as the Prologue says. A remote English country house, an old and faithful housekeeper, two young orphan children and an eager new governess sent down from London to look after them. But all is not quite as it seems in the sheltered world of Bly. Spirits from the past increasingly encroach upon the realm of the living. And one question keeps worming its way into the governess’s mind: what exactly did happen between the children, their former governess and the deceased manservant, Peter Quint? 

Britten’s brilliantly scored, insidiously compelling adaptation of Henry James’s novella takes its themes of childish innocence and adult corruption, then twists and turns them to disturbing and ultimately devastating effect.

Jonathan Kent’s eerily unsettling staging returns to the Festival conducted by Glyndebourne on Tour’s Music Director, Jakub Hrůša. The cast includes Giselle Allen as Miss Jessel, and Toby Spence as Peter Quint, while Miah Persson sings the role of the Governess.

A revival of the 2006 Glyndebourne on Tour production.
Sung in English with supertitles.

This revival is generously supported by Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson.

Listen to The Turn of the Screw podcast

Conductor Jakub Hrůša and Director Jonathan Kent talk to James Whitbourn about The Turn of the Screw (17 mins):

Lynne Truss - String and Air

Listen to Lynne Truss reading her story 'String and Air', based on Britten's The Turn of the Screw (27 mins):

Performed by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd

Setting: Bly, an English country-house

Prologue

The Prologue introduces ‘a curious story, written in faded ink’, the personal account of a young governess, sent to instruct a boy and a girl in the country, long ago…

Act I

On her journey to Bly, the Governess ponders her position’s uncertainties: the orphaned children, the old housekeeper, and her instructions not to contact her charges’ only relative.

The children – Miles and Flora – together with the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, welcome the Governess; Mrs Grose assures her they are clever and good. The Governess feels at home. When she receives a letter from Miles’s school dismissing him as ‘an injury to his friends’, Mrs Grose’s protestations and the sight of the children playing reassure her; she decides to ignore it.

Enjoying a warm summer evening in the grounds, the Governess sees a figure on the tower whom she at first imagines to be the children’s relative. But it is not. She suspects it may be a madman or intruder.

As the children are playing indoors, the Governess sees the man again, gazing in at the window. Mrs Grose identifies him as Quint, the master’s former valet and Miles’s companion, who ‘made free’ with the Governess’s predecessor, Miss Jessel. Both are now dead. Horror-struck, the Governess fears that he has come back for Miles, and swears to protect the children. Mrs Grose offers her support.

During the children’s lesson, Miles sings a strange song; he asks the Governess if she likes it. 

Sitting by the lake with Flora, the Governess sees her staring at Miss Jessel, who has appeared on the other side. Sending Flora away, the Governess believes that both children are lost.

At night in the garden, Quint calls to Miles, and Miss Jessel to Flora. The Governess comes upon them as the ghosts disappear, and asks Miles what he is doing. ‘You see, I am bad,’ he answers.

Dinner interval of approximately 85 minutes

Act II

Quint and Jessel converse, she accusing him of betrayal, he speaking of the friend he seeks. The Governess admits that she is lost in a labyrinth.

In the churchyard, the children emulate choirboys. The Governess tells Mrs Grose that they are complicit with Quint and Jessel. She has a disconcerting conversation with Miles and thinks he is challenging her to act.

In the schoolroom, the Governess finds Miss Jessel, who says to her that she cannot rest. She writes a letter to her employer telling him what has occurred. 

In Miles’s bedroom, she tells him that she has written to his guardian. Quint calls to him. The candle goes out; Miles says that it was he who extinguished it.  

Quint’s voice is heard encouraging Miles to retrieve the letter. He complies.

During Miles’s piano practice, the Governess realizes that Flora has slipped away – to meet, she suspects, Miss Jessel. She and Mrs Grose go in search of her. 

At the lake, the Governess accuses Flora of seeing Miss Jessel, who remains invisible to Mrs Grose. Flora denies it, and Mrs Grose leads her away. The Governess fears she has lost the housekeeper’s support.

After a horrendous night with Flora, Mrs Grose prepares to remove her; she also informs the Governess that Miles has stolen the letter. 

The Governess confronts Miles. Quint – at first unseen, then visible – warns him to remain silent. She forces Miles to name who made him take the letter. Miles blurts out ‘Peter Quint, you devil!’, collapsing in the Governess’s arms. Realizing he is dead, she sings the strange song he once sang to her.   

Words: George Hall

Creative team

Conductor Jakub Hrůša
Director Jonathan Kent
Designer Paul Brown
Lighting designer Mark Henderson

Cast includes

Prologue/Peter Quint Toby Spence
Governess Miah Persson
Mrs Grose Susan Bickley
Miss Jessel Giselle Allen
Miles Thomas Parfitt
Flora Joanna Songi

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Audio files: 

The Turn of the Screw on iTunes

A special price for The Turn of the Screw on iTunes, now available for £8.99 until 28 August.

Turn of the Screw - iTunes Offer

2011 Festival Production

Miah Persson as the Governess in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.
Turn of the Screw Cast  in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.
 Miah Persson as the Governess and Giselle Allen as Miss Jessel in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.
Miah Persson as the Governess and Thomas Parfitt as Miles in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.
Miah Persson as the Governess and Thomas Parfitt as Miles in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.
Joanna Songi as Flora, Miah Persson as the Governess and Thomas Parfitt as Miles in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir
Miah Persson as the Governess and Thomas Parfitt as Miles in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.
Miah Persson as the Governess in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.
Miah Persson as the Governess in the 2011 production. Photo: Alastair Muir.

Comments

I had not seen or heard a Britten opera before and I found it very different from anything peviously encountered.
The music in the first half was quite difficult to appreciate but, after a delicious al fresco supper, the second half was much more enjoyable - at a sinister level!
The singing, stage management and direction were excellent.

Last season I was overwhelmed by Billy Budd...this year I booked for Turn of the Screw and loved it.
The second half in particular was so tense I don't remember breathing.
Visually such a spectacular set...how imaginative; the briliant train journey with our view through the carriage windows was fantastic.
Peter Grimes in 2000 has never left my memory, the more Britten the better for me.

The performance was wonderful, especially the boy. The girl was fantastic, wonderful voice, with a slight danger of sounding too mature for the character. Great production, captures the spirit of the work very well.

Easily the best of the several productions that I have seen. All the singers/actors were good. Toby Spence and the boy who played Miles were outstanding. The sets were brilliantly versatile. Special congratulations to Miah Persson on the quality of her English accewnt and diction. Outstanding for, presumably, a second language.

Just perfect. A great end to the season.

Astonishing. Gripping. Clearly stripping away the ambiguity of James in favour of Britten's own intentions. A masterpiece of a production and a great credit to Glyndebourne. One that will be very hard to match.

Just seen The Turn of the Screw for the second time (same production) and thought it equally excellent. I did have one query - did you really need a Christmas tree? I do know why but that bothered me this time - not a view shared by my two friends.

More care needed in the first half to convey the menace of the 'spooky' presence - particularly the sighting of Quint on the tower and his appearance at the window. You shouldn't have apparitions walking on to stage and off again through an open door in the scenery. Second half did it though!

Truly outstanding in every way. The production was intelligent and effective, the singers were uniformly superb and the conductor and orchestra deserve to be singled out for special praise - I have never heard such a detailed and sensitive reading of the score.

My daughter & I were spellbound in the second act. The suspense held us, I hardly dared to breathe. The singing was wonderful throughout, as was the orchestra. Thomas Parfitt sang beautifully what marvellous talent --aged only 12.

I have seen this production before but thought it was even better this time. Everyon concerned, conductor, orchestra, singers and production were really top class. look forward when you do it again

I had seen Turn of the Screw three times before at Glyndebourne in previous years, but this year's production was the best ever. Beautiful singing and superb scene setting. I found it incredibly powerful.

An excellent productiopn , particularly noteworthy for the brilliantly imaginative staging ;so both a musical and visual treat.

Superb! Drama,suspense and sublime music. The children were stunningly good.

The music is wonderful. All the standards we expect from Glyndebourne were upheld: the playing, the singing and most importantly, for me, the standard of acting. Miles, in particular, sang and performed superbly. Setting the action away from its Victorian era, however, is a mistake. This is most clearly seen in Quint; it’s very important that the governess is able to describe him to the housekeeper as someone in gentleman’s clothing but not a gentleman. Such a distinction is not really possible to illustrate in the 1950’s.

An superb production. It had a wonderful feeling of mystery and suspense and worry. Quite the best production I have seen.The cast and orchestra were excellent. Once again Glyndebourne sets the standards.

Sublime performance of BBs 'Turn of the Screw' The singers were so very good as expected and together with the acting the atmosphere was charged throughout - we were all so still watching...waiting...

We were blown away by the staging! Loved the metaphor of the tree. The tree of life so dead - as evil came in the house so did the huge, twisted, severed tree limb.

An enthralling evening out.

Clever production. But please no more Britten for a long time. Enough is enough

Everything about the performance of the Turn of the Screw was perfect. The production was stunning, the singing and the performances of all the cast were spot on. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and was very sad when it was all over for another year.

Another Britten triumph following the excellent Billy Budd last year.
Each aspect of this production supported the other elements so well - imaginative staging (I liked the 50s setting); outstanding voices and wonderful playing/ conducting.
The menace of this short story was acutely brought out and it made me think again about the subtext.
I was so enthralled by the quality of this production that as soon I got home last night, I went online and booked to go again!

I have just experianced my first Britten Opera,'Turn of the Screw',at a small 30s Cinema in deepest Dorset. Together with 90 others I was left spellbound. I have never experianced such tension in a production before. I would like to thank whoever originally suggested direct broadcasts from major Opera productions. I could not ever afford to have experianced such memorable performances other than these direct broadcasts. This Glyndebourne production blew me away.

Last night I heard this production for the third time: Camilla Tilling sang Governess on the previous visits. It is one of the defining Glyndebourne productions, with a perfect symbiosis of singing, acting, orchestration and set. Like the Ponnelle Falstaff, Hall Midsummer Night's Dream, Hockney Rake and last year's Billy Budd with Michael Grandage, it seems unlikely there could ever be a more absorbing and emotionally satisfying production. Thank you so much for these unforgettable evenings.

Another great production. Splendidly sung by entire cast. Having seen the Opera many many times I have to say that I still prefer it set in the times for which it was composed. Have always wondered whether the Governess 'imagines' much what she sees and hears although in this production that did not come across. Always a point of discussion as one leaves the theatre.

Another exceptionally fine Glyndebourne production like that of Billy Budd, with all contributors, including the technical staff. deserving very high praise. I thought the conducting well judged but perhaps most impressive was the quality of the voices which matched across the spectrum in a way that added to the eeriness of the work. And Miles could not have been better: sad that he has to grow older!

Fabulous. The adults were all great; but the children were truly special. This was my first Turn of the Screw, as a bit of a Britten sceptic, but it bowled me over; genuinely spooky -
the bathroom scene particularly was horribly creepy(in a very good way indeed)!
Congrats to all concerned.

The whole sound is quite remarkable. I found the eeriness and splintering clarity of the sound actually had me on the edge of my seat. The production was of course was stunningly visually and Miah Persson sang so beautifully. Also Thomas Parfitt was absolutely wonderful. Not only was his voice like crystal but his interpretation of the role was, literally, unnervingly haunting.

An outstanding telling of this story…it had me shivering with its dreadful implications of abuse. Musically, too, absolutely compelling voices against a scintillating score.

Has the opera been employed as a channel for perpetrators and victims to express themselves? It should be…

A truly spellbinding production of this wonderful opera. Mia Persson was perfect as the governess. As well as a golden voice, she has such an expressive face and conveys the nameless horror of what is going/has gone on with such intensity that I felt she was singing just to me. Toby Spence was a horribly convincing Quint - the bathroom scene was especially unnerving. I shrieked (in a polite, glyndebourne way) when Miss Jessel appeared at the dressing table - what a clever piece of theatre.
We have seen this production before and it was every bit as eerie and musically engaging as before. thank you

all fantastic!!!!! going again on Friday to see Rinaldo.

I am en route to the first day of rehearsals for Glyndebourne's production of The Turn Of The Screw and I am genuinely excited.

Saw this when it was a new production. Enjoyed Don Giovanni last month with my wife, whose first visit it was. JUST HAD TO GO AGAIN!! See you 28 Aug!

I am looking forward to the show.

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