Garsington’s Admirable Elucidation of Psychologically and Emotionally Dark The Turn of the Screw

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Garsington Opera 2019 [3] – Britten, The Turn of Screw: Soloists, Garsington Opera Orchestra / Richard Farnes (conductor). Garsington Opera at Wormsley, 7.7.2018. (CR)

Leo Jemison (Miles) Elen Willmer (Flora) Ed Lyon (Peter Quint) & Katherine Broderick (Miss Jessel)<br/>(c) Johan Persson


Director – Louisa Muller
Designer – Christopher Oram
Lighting designer – Malcolm Rippeth


Prologue / Quint – Ed Lyon
Governess – Sophie Bevan
Flora – Adrianna Forbes-Dorant
Miles – Leo Jemison
Mrs Grose – Kathleen Wilkinson
Miss Jessel – Katherine Broderick

Garsington Opera’s auditorium – with its transparent panels at the sides of the stage which looking out to the grounds of the vast and beautiful expanse of the Wormsley Estate – already goes a considerable way to creating the setting for Bly, the country house in which the spooky happenings of The Turn of the Screw take place. In Louisa Muller’s production and Christopher Oram’s designs, that only has to be completed with the dilapidated facades of an inner hall and, more elusively, a stream of water leading off to one side, which makes more of a destructive incursion into the floor of the chamber for Act II. It is reminiscent of a still more austere, but historically grounded, counterpart to the castle of Allemonde in Pelléas et Mélisande, not least on account of the equally evocative setting which Garsington created for their production of that opera two years ago.

Particularly as dusk falls outside the auditorium, the scene becomes more sinister, aiding the implication of the text that the shadowy figures of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel might simply be figments of Miles and the Governess’s imaginations.

Ed Lyon is a mellifluously ethereal Quint as he emerges at various tries from behind the panels of the set into the hall of Bly, and sings to Miles with a sinister reassurance and encouragement. Katherine Broderick’s Miss Jessel is an equally suggestive presence, first seemingly floating into the house on the pool of water in her swaddling black crinoline dress, and disappearing over it again, into the night, at the end.

Leo Jemison and Adrianna Forbes-Dorant are unflinching as the children Miles and Flora respectively, blending together musically with conviction (they alternate with Lucas Rebato and Elen Willmer during this run of performances). Jemison captures the apparent innocence of the music, whilst Forbes-Dorant suggests a girl who is already more confident, even mischievous. Sophie Bevan first expresses a certain optimism and enthusiasm as The Governess on her arrival at Bly, but rightly traces the character’s development into worry and fear as she becomes immersed in its world. She sings consistently with innate musicality and authority, drawing attention to the fact that it is through her eyes that the audience perceives the unfolding action. Kathleen Wilkinson’s Mrs Grose has a more down-to-earth robustness, apparently unfazed by what is going on among the other characters.

Richard Farnes conducts the reduced forces of the Garsington Opera Chorus in an atmospheric account of this chamber opera. The shifting timbres of the various instruments in the orchestration are always to the fore, but ultimately joined up in a seamless patchwork  of sound which enables the score to pulsate and glow with seductive danger, making palpable in the music the subtexts of feelings and thoughts which are otherwise out of reach. To that extent, so psychologically and emotionally dark a drama is admirably elucidated by this production and performance.

Curtis Rogers

Further performances of The Turn of the Screw on 13, 15, and 19 July.

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