When a governess agrees to take care of two children at a remote country estate, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever…
Based on the book by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw is the only opera to have been inspired by a ghost story and even makes the singers shiver! Hold on tight to your seat.
“It’s got moments that really make your flesh creep!” — Alessandro Talevi, Director
1. A spooky soundtrack
All the best horror movies rely on music to ratchet up the tension and The Turn of the Screw is no exception. Throughout the opera, Britten connects each piece of the action with a recurring theme which mimics a screw tightening and untightening. Simple but surprisingly spine-chilling!
Listen out too for the music changing whenever a ghost appears – rather like in a Hitchcock film.
“The words without the music make a brilliant ghost story. The words with the music make a tense psychological thriller.” — Leo McFall, Conductor
2. Innocence corrupted
The fact that it’s two children who may be possessed by evil spirits makes this opera all the scarier. One of the most unnerving parts is when the boy, Miles, sings his lessons in a trance-like state – there’s no other operatic aria like it.
When the children sing nursery rhymes together, it also sounds incredibly eerie as there’s a horrible creepy undertone beneath the sweetness which hints at a completely different meaning. This idea of innocence masking something evil has been used many times in films, but it sounds even more uncanny in an opera.
Jennifer Clark as Flora © Tristram Kenton
Two of the main characters in the opera appear from beyond the grave. We discover early on that both the valet, Peter Quint, and the previous governess, Miss Jessel, have died, yet their restless spirits haunt at least one of inhabitant of the house and possibly more.
“There’s this moment where the Governess realises that what she’s just seen was a ghost and then suddenly everything changes for her. It’s terrifying.” — Sarah Tynan, the Governess
One thing’s for sure: the ghosts are given to turning up when least expected for a real edge-of-the-seat thrill.
Eleanor Dennis as Miss Jessel © Tristram Kenton
4. Trust nothing – and no-one
The Turn of the Screw takes the idea of the unreliable narrator to new heights. Although we can see, and hear, the ghosts, we still don’t know for certain whether they’re real or the just the product of the Governess’ fevered imagination.
In this production, the Governess never leaves the stage suggesting the action is all being filtered through her consciousness. Or is it? It’s not even clear whether the children are as corrupted as the Governess believes – and, like all the best ghost stories, even the ending is ambiguous.
Heather Shipp as Mrs Grose, Jennifer Clark as Flora and Tim Gasiorek as Miles © Tristram Kenton
5. What’s in the shadows?
The set looks innocent enough, but everything is slightly out of kilter: some objects are too big; others too small. The oversized four-poster suggests the childhood nightmare of monsters lurking underneath the bed, and people – real or imaginary – hide in the room’s dark shadows or look in from outside. Even the children’s toys take on a life of their own: look out for the rocking horse rocking by itself… What’s more, the action all takes place in the same room adding to the feeling of claustrophobia.
“It’s like being enclosed in the space with them. There is no escape.” — Alessandro Talevi, Director
Jennifer Clark as Flora and Tim Gasiorek as Miles © Tristram Kenton
The Turn of the Screw is sung in English and lasts approximately 2 hours 15 minutes (including one interval). Join in on social media with #ONTurnScrew.
The production will also be streamed live from Leeds Grand Theatre on OperaVision on Friday 21 February at 7.30pm GMT and will be available to watch for free until Friday 21 August 2020.