Glyndebourne is a remote country house and, on a day when Hurricane Gonzalo blew out its last, it made a suitable setting for this revival production of Britten’s ambiguous operatic adaptation of Henry James’s ambiguous novel about spooksome goings on in a remote country house. Are the ghosts real? What are these things of which we cannot speak? Why is Peter Quint ginger? All this and more are half-answered as the treble’s voice rises, Malo, Malo …
The Turn of the Screw is a novel whose simple telling and comparative short length mask a whole heap of possible meanings and suggestions. Britten’s opera follows this. It’s over and done inside two hours, is set for a chamber ensemble and gets by on a half dozen characters in a couple of acts. But it gets inside you. It lingers. Ignoring some of the wilder moral outrage of the characters in the book, Britten’s music (and Myfanway Piper’s libretto) draws only on key scenes. The ghosts have voice but their motivations are unclear. Nothing is ever truly explained. The music that accompanies this never settles but never collapses into total dissonance. There are tunes, there is beauty but it is surrounded by threat, by malevolence, by forces the characters, possibly not even the ghosts, cannot control. Naturally, the opera stays true to the source material’s sad ending. No one wants to walk out smiling.
This production is top drawer, building on that ambiguity. The house and its environs represented by a giant, multi-framed window that sends lines across the stage, creates shapes. The world moves in tight circles, the characters vanish into the furniture. Harsh lights mellow and then glare again. Shadows are cast everywhere.
The cast, too, do not put a foot wrong. Of particular note are the children: Thomas Delgado-Little as Miles and Louise Moseley as Flora. But this is strong throughout – and clearly sung too. I did not need the surtitles on this occasion, something I wish would be true for more opera when it’s in English. The sound from the orchestra pit was still strong but not overwhelming at the back of the hall. (And a note of praise for Glyndebourne here too: this was my first visit and I was on the next to back row. At other places that would mean a lousy seat, no proper view and dodgy sound. Here in Sussex all was good – and for a price that would shame many other opera houses (I’m looking at you, ENO).)
All in all, a tremendous production and a very pleasing way to break my Glyndebourne duck.