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Gripping performance

'The Turn of the Screw' -
reviewed by

'... splendidly captured musically and visually ...'

Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw. © 2005 Opus Arte

'The old trees, the thick shrubbery ...' of Henry James's description are omnipresent in this enthralling production for the spectral figures of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel to stalk through, headless much of the time only because the cameras concentrate on the striding legs, moving with such sinister purpose to ensure that in their youthful prey 'The ceremony of innocence is drowned' (these libretto words are actually by Yeats). The original 1954 production used silhouettes some of the time, and occasionally I feel the visitations from another world were almost too palpable to give the proper frisson.

A scene from Britten's 'The Turn of the Screw'. © 2005 Opus Arte
A scene from Britten's 'The Turn of the Screw'. © 2005 Opus Arte

Not that this is an opera to hear or watch late at night. The gathering tension is almost unbearable. I have courted sleep by soothing James-Britten with the more kindly emanations in Dickens's Christmas Carol. A prologue and sixteen scenes are interlaced with a twelve-note theme and fifteen variations for orchestra alone. The tone-row is scanned differently each time, so that the screw is progressively turned and tightened. It is the tautest of Britten's operas, dealing as so often with forces of corruption, the more terrible for the youth of the victims and the elusive nature of the evil powers.

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Copyright © 17 March 2005 Robert Anderson, Lebanon


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