The Turn of the Screw
‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned.’ These words, taken from a poem by WB Yeats, are the central motif for Benjamin Britten’s opera. Two children are at the core of the story, Miles and Flora. Has their innocence been fatally corrupted? Have they become possessed by malign forces? Are they essentially evil?
Based on the story by Henry James, the opera draws on every nuance of the original’s insidious subtlety, its depiction of a strangely disturbed atmosphere, of hidden horrors and ambiguities. There are ghosts but are they real manifestations or have they been conjured up by the disturbed imagination of the governess who has been appointed to look after the children?
Twining itself throughout the work is the music that Britten writes for the children, deceptively simple and hauntingly strange and sinister. Nursery rhymes become incantations and the familiar words of psalms from the Bible are disturbingly distorted.
The screw turns and keeps turning, ever tighter…
Described by the Independent on Sunday as ‘one of Glyndebourne’s most provocative and accomplished productions’, The Turn of the Screw was first seen as part of Tour 2006 and is revived with a cast of rising stars including award-winning Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw in the role of the Governess and Jerwood Young Artist (2010) Anthony Gregory as Peter Quint.
Under 30s tickets are available for just £20 for the Friday 24 October performance at Glyndebourne. Find out how to become an under 30s member.
A revival of the 2006 Tour production
Sung in English with supertitles
The performance lasts approximately 2 hours, including one interval of 20 minutes.
Performed by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.
Setting: Bly, an English country house
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 …
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.
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 play among the graves. 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 realises 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. He collapses in the Governess’s arms. Realising he is dead, she sings the strange song he once sang to her.
Conductor Leo McFall
Director Jonathan Kent
Revival Director Francesca Gilpin
Designer Paul Brown
Lighting Designer Mark Henderson
Prologue/Peter Quint Anthony Gregory
Governess Natalya Romaniw
Mrs Grose Anne Mason
Miss Jessel Miranda Keys
The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra
'A masterpiece, brilliantly realised.'
‘Revived by Francesca Gilpin, Jonathan Kent’s production of The Turn of the Screw is as crisp and disciplined as it was in 2006. ...The children, pure-voiced, vicious and unknowable, are outstanding.’
‘Anthony Gregory’s Quint, younger and handsomer than most, sounds disquietingly beautiful, which makes him very creepy indeed. ...The children, Thomas Delgado-Little as Miles and Louise Moseley as Flora, are utterly convincing, and rarely, I suspect, have been bettered.'
'Kent’s 2006 production is no stranger to the Glyndebourne stage, but it still makes a fresh impact,'
'Jonathan Kent's peerless production of Britten's ghost opera, impeccably revived'
What's on Stage
‘Leo McFall is the kind of up-and-coming young conductor whom Glyndebourne has always been keen to encourage, and on this showing he is indeed one to watch'