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<<  -- 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
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.

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Copyright © 15 September 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK


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