<< -- 4 -- Roderic Dunnett A HAUNTING FUTURE
Fielding kept the action sensibly simple, overlaying nothing that seemed
fussy or finicky. Placing the Governess / Miss Jessel desk at very frontstage
made, vocally, all the difference. Following an effective final sextet,
Janis Kelly's Miss Jessel emerged to advantage in part two : her 'Where
were you?' was positively unearthly (viola, horn, oboe, and bassoon
over cello in turn abetting the action). The Quint-Jessel 'colloquy' here
felt strikingly like something from Martinu or Janácek : their joint
reprise of the opening serial sequence had an ominous decisiveness about
it; and the 'ceremony of innocence' really did drown.
Jessel's 'lost in my labyrinth' is like a chilly, scherzo treatment of
the 'ceremony' music; later her desk song -- 'Here my tragedy began, here
revenge begins', with Kelly's Jessel brought even further forward to the
front of the desk, black petticoated and overly sexual (though sidling bassoon
suggests it), was another of the evening's highlights.
Flora (Megan Kelly, on house) with The Governess (Natasha Marsh) and Miles. Photo © Clive Barda
The church scene brought a new surprise and ambiguity : an open, ready
dug grave : but whose? Quint's? Miles's? Everybody's? It bears a lurid attraction
for the children, as for Quint : true to character (innocent? sullied?),
Megan Kelly's Flora buries her doll in it. The lit model of Bly is ever
present, suspended overhead, a weight on everyone's shoulders. Again Chris
Davey's lights -- blue-yellow; shifts to green, a clutch of icy blues (Quint
has a matching suit) -- intensified the hothouse atmosphere. A rising sixth
of almost Straussian richness sees Jessel off and the governess on; Britten's
almost shocking downward semitonal lurch ('I am alone') announces
the opera's denouement.
Miles's bed -- suspended, Damocles-like, above for the Jessel-Flora scene,
neatly replaces the desk frontstage. With desolate low piccolo and solo
double bass Britten brilliantly pinpoints the Governess's isolation. The
same sensibility that pricked her at the outset returns : the 'ceremony
of innocence' music has become the Governess's own.
But it is Quint's and Miles's moment of double triumph : at Quint's clarinet-girt
call, the opening note row resurfaces for the last time. With Lloyd Roberts,
Quint's farewell becomes almost a yelp : this is a Quint as pained by his
control-craze as he is hurt on the forehead. We feel for him. And so does
Miles, who in Fielding's version addresses 'Peter Quint, you devil !'
not to the manservant (his opening on life), but to the Governess (his inhibitant).
As cor anglais announces the close, we sense that either or both of them
have a haunting future.
Copyright © 15 September 2002
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK