Osmond’s clear-eyed and sharp-edged staging will bring this enthralling work more new friends.
Putting The Great Back Into Britten: There’s scarcely a weak link in a production which takes Britten and the audience by the scruff of the neck... Osmond’s skill is to retain the work’s mysteries and ambiguities and leave the mind to work on what the ear and the eye have revealed.
Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is a brilliant adaptation of Henry James’s classic story. A young governess accepts a post caring for two orphaned children on a remote country estate. Gradually she becomes convinced that the spirits of a dead valet and the former governess are planning to possess the children.
Part of what makes this opera such a masterpiece is that the darkest themes which brew underneath are never laid out explicitly, particularly those of sexual awareness and abuse. This quote from the libretto shows this ambiguity brilliantly –
“O Miles – I cannot bear to lose you!
You shall be mine, and I shall save you.”
The Governess is speaking about a child, but the language used is how you might address a lover. Similarly, Miles teeters between acting like a young innocent and displaying knowledge and experience that far exceed that of his years. (Sally Mann’s photos in Immediate Family were a potent source of inspiration, as well as those of Lewis Carroll.)
Michael Vale’s set was a sea of shimmering black, featuring sliding panels. This enabled furniture, props and characters to appear and disappear in an instant, conveying the fragmenting state of the Governess’s distorted mind.
The physical appearance of both spirits remained frozen in their moment of death – Quint with a bleeding head, and Miss Jessel pregnant, constantly carrying a child within her that would never be born.
The final confrontation plays out like the climax of a custody battle, with two surrogate parents each determined to own the child outright. In our production, the Governess gripped Miles by one arm; Quint, the dead valet, gripped him by the other, with each tug threatening to tear the boy in two. Forced to choose, Miles rejects Quint, but breaks under the emotional strain; and at the very moment that the Governess thinks she has saved him, Miles dies in her arms.