Review: The Turn of the Screw, Opera North, Leeds Grand Theatre, Tuesday 18th February 2020

BENJAMIN Britten’s The Turn of the Screw is set to a libretto by Myfanwy Piper and adapted from a Victorian horror novella by Henry James. The opera premiered at La Fenice, Venice, in September 1954.

Opera North’s production, directed by Alessandro Talevi, was originally staged at Leeds Grand Theatre in October 2010. It now resonates with even more disturbing undertones.

An aura of ambiguity hangs over the four-poster bed, centre stage. Enveloped in mist and shadows, this bed briefly becomes the coach for Sarah Tynan’s bumpy journey as the new Governess to an isolated country house. There she will meet her new charges.

A stage picture of the full moon rising over the enigmatic tower of the house and lush garden evokes an unsettling world of half-light. We, the audience, are as unsure as the Governess herself what is real and what is imagined. Perhaps only the innocent children, Flora and Miles, are aware of the presence of the ghosts of Peter Quint, the manservant who once dominated the household, and Miss Jessel, a previous Governess.

Britten’s mysterious soundscape is created by just twelve instruments, the same as for his other chamber operas, but with the addition of a piano and a celeste. The seductive timbre of the celeste is not there to add twinkle to a fairytale, rather to suggest Quint’s destructive influence on the children.

A superlative cast is led by Tynan’s edgy-toned Governess and Heather Shipp’s motherly housekeeper Mrs Grose. Nicholas Watts as Prologue and Ghost of Peter Quint has a pure English-sounding tenor, redolent of Peter Pears, creator of the role of Quint. Eleanor Dennis is Quint’s ghostly companion Miss Jessel.

Flora and Miles, are sung with depth of feeling by Jennifer Clark and eleven year-old Tim Gasiorek, who brings a possessed other-worldly quality to the role of Miles.

Britten’s percussive and glittery score is in the skilfil hands of conductor Leo McFall at the helm of the Orchestra of Opera North. McFall carefully ratchets up the psychological terror embedded in the masterly dramatic and musical form to its devastating climax.

Last performance at Leeds Grand, Thursday at 7. 30pm.

Geoffrey Mogridge