The Turn of the Screw, Glyndebourne, August 2011Posted on 12 August 2011
The clarity of this production, and this performance, was exceptional. From the first words of the Prologue to the last words of the drama when the Governess asks the limp body of Miles, “What have we done between us?”, the whole story was laid bare.
The scene with the governess travelling by train to the big house where she will look after the two children was beautifully done, with projections of moving countryside through train windows. You feel for the governess, for her uncertainty, “If things go wrong, what shall I do? Who can I ask, with none of my own kind to talk to?”
The central feature of this Jonathan Kent production is a large frame of windows, including a French window, that can revolve, be lifted, and rotated out of their frame. The windows help separate the world of normality from otherworldly forces, and in the scene at the lake they lie horizontally over the body of Miss Jessel, as if she were under water before rising up to spook the governess. The previous death of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint is represented partly by branches of a dead tree where Quint sits when he urges Miles to steal the letter, and the many scenes in this opera are formed by bringing stage props together by rotating various annular regions of the stage, sometimes in opposite directions. These are clever designs by Paul Brown, helped by Mark Henderson’s lighting, and I particularly liked the final scene of Act I where Miles is in the bath and Flora is washing her hair. She puts her head in the basin and remains utterly still while Quint appears to Miles. It’s as if time stands still. It’s as if these ghostly appearances exist in a wrinkle of time, inaccessible to Mrs. Grose the housekeeper, but they are disturbances that reveal themselves to receptive minds.
This is a chamber opera, with thirteen instrumentalists from the London Philharmonic playing beautifully under the direction of young Czech conductor, Jakub Hrůša, the music director of Glyndebourne on Tour. The cast worked together as a team, all with excellent diction, and it’s impossible to pick out single brilliant performances. Toby Spence gave great clarity to the prologue and was a charismatic Quint; and Giselle Allen was a creepy looking Miss Jessel, with her long, untidy, black hair, and spine-tingling voice. Miah Persson was a wonderful governess, pretty and sure of voice, albeit plagued by anxiety, and Susan Bickley was strong and equally sure as Mrs. Grose. This wonderful team of adults was complemented by Joanna Songi as Flora and Thomas Parfitt as Miles. As a woman in her very early twenties, Ms Songi came over very well as a ten year old girl, and Thomas Parfitt played a boy of his own age (12) with superb clarity and voice control. This was as close to perfect a performance of Britten’s opera as one is ever likely to get, and is not to be missed.