Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 21st of October 2012 at 3.03 - 5.10 pm
BRITTEN: The Turn of the Screw,
an opera in a prologue and two acts
Prologue/Peter Quint... Nikolai Shukoff
Governess.................... Sally Matthews
Miles............................ Teddy Favre-Gilly
Flora............................. Eleonore Burke
Mrs Grose.................... Ann Murray
Miss Jessel................... Jennifer Larmore
Vienna Radio SO/Cornelius Meister
(recorded in the Theater an der Wien, Vienna)
DECIPHERMENT (Latin double meanings)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) THE TURN OF THE SCREW
This is a spooky tale by Henry James (libretto by Myfanwy Piper) concerning the corrupting of two orphan children, brother and sister, by a pair of ghosts, while their governess tries to save them from destruction. Peter Quint is another Peter Grimes, when it comes to ruining the life of boys; but with regard to the operas, this one has a limited cast, no chorus, and a a smaller orchestra, and its music is haunting (of course). The interludes (a theme and 15 variations) represent the tightening of the screw (think of the old torture instrument).
The setting is the Victorian era, in a house called Bly in Essex (who mentioned sex? just think of evil when the ghosts seduce the children). The owner of the country-house is the young uncle and guardian of the children, but he is never at home there, as he lives in London.
In our video opera group we watched this in a film-opera, made for
television (BBC); all the singers are also the actors; they appear in
outdoor and indoor scenes performing their roles, but they are not
always seen to be singing.
Narrator in the prologue, and the ghost of Peter Quint in the drama: Mark Padmore
New governess, never named, who realizes what is going on: Lisa Milne
Mrs Grose, the housekeeper of Bly: Diana Montague
Miss Jessel, ghost, former governess, seduced by Quint, the valet: Catrin Wyn Davies
Flora and Miles, the children: Kirby Johnson, Wise
City of London Sinfonia, Conductor Richard Hickox (TV Director Katie Mitchell)
PROLOGUE: male narrator tells a story from long ago, written by a governess.
Interlude 1 (Theme).
 The Journey. The young governess has misgivings as she approaches the house, but she will do it for the guardian (who has ordered her never to write to him, too busy).
Interlude (variation 1)
 The Welcome. Mrs Grose has the children practising their curtseying and bowing. She confesses to the governess that they are too lively for her. They show her around.
 The Letter. It is from the school that Miles attends, but he has been expelled; the reason is not stated; surely he is too innocent to do harm. Nothing will be said. (Grose kisses her!)
 The Tower. Strolling in the grounds the Governess is happy, tranquil, serene, though she has heard noises in the night; and then she spies a pale man on the tower. Who is it?
 The Window. Miles and Flora are playing, and singing “Tom. Tom the piper’s son stole a pig and away he run. Pig was eat and Tom was beat, Tom went howling down the street”. Governess sees the man at the window, looking at her. Grose identifies him from Gov’s description as Peter Quint, the Master’s valet, who had his way with good Miss Jessel, and the innocent babes, twisted them all round his little finger; she went away to die, and Quint was found dead on an icy road.
 The Lesson. Miles is reciting his Latin masculine nouns ending in -is, and Flora is ‘helping’, but she wants to do history, Boadicea (Boudica) on her chariot. No. Miles chants his MALO song, based on 4 meanings of Latin MAL- (prefer, apple, bad, badness): Malo ... I would rather be, Malo ... in an apple tree, Malo ... than a naughty boy, Malo ... in adversity.
 The Lake. Flora is reciting the names of seas to G. She plays with a doll. Jessel is sighted.
 At Night. Quint and Jessel entice the children to rise from their beds and come outside. G and G take them inside. Miles: “You see, I am bad. I am bad, aren’t I?”
Variation 8 (The governess prowls about with a lamp)
[2.1] Colloquy and Soliloquy. The subject is innocence.The ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel reproach each other; their enigmatic theme (or haunting refrain?) is “the ceremony of innocence is drowned”. The governess lies in her bed, feeling lost in her labyrinth, not knowing which way to turn: “Oh innocence, you have corrupted me”.
[2.2] The Bells. In the churchyard the brother and sister, Miles and Flora, are happily performing a mock service among the gravestones. Mrs Grose is pleased that they are happy, but the governess tells her that the children are actually with “the others”, Quint and Jessel. Yet she can not write to their uncle and worry him. Flora goes into church with Mrs Grose, though Miles remains outside, ostensibly to listen to the bells, but to prod his governess. He asks when he can go back to school to be with his own kind; he mentions “the others”. Left alone she panics and wants to flee from the horrors of the place.
[2.3] Miss Jessel. The governess goes into the classroom and encounters her predecessor, lamenting; she drives her out; she then decides to write a letter to the children’s guardian, and does.
[2.4] The Bedroom. Miles is sitting on his bed musing and singing his Malo ditty. The governess inquires about what has been going on in the house; she tells him she has written a letter to be sent to his uncle in London. Quint is present. The candle goes out.
[2.5] Quint. He urges Miles to take the letter from the schoolroom (in this version the boy burns it).
[2.6] The Piano. Miles is performing at the piano, and the Governess and the Housekeeper (Mrs Grose, we do know her name) are saying what a clever boy he is, and he must have practised very hard. Flora is on the floor, playing at “cat’s cradle”. G whispers to H that she has written a letter, and it is ready for the post (but in the previous scene Miles has taken it and destroyed it). Flora slips away, and when the two ladies realize she has gone they chase after her, while Miles plays on in triumph for having distracted them.
[2.7] Flora. The two anxious women find Flora by the lake. Miss Jessel appears and calls to Flora to keep their secret, but Mrs Grose can not see her. Flora claims she can not see anybody, says she hates her governess, and Mrs Grose takes her back to the house. The Governess feels she has now lost Flora, and she has failed miserably in her task, and “there is no more innocence in me”.
[2.8] Miles. Mrs Grose, after hearing Flora’s ravings all night, is taking her to her uncle, who is her guardian; she knows that the letter did not get to the post, and Miles must have intercepted it. The Governess remains with Miles: “So, my dear, we are alone”, he says. Peter Quint is hovering nearby. Miles admits he took the letter, to see what she was saying about them (but in this version he burnt it immediately?). “Do not betray our secrets”, Quint says, “Miles, you are mine”. The Governess urges Miles to “say the name and he will go for ever”. Miles screams: “Peter Quint, you devil”, and he falls into her arms. Quint slowly disappears, saying “Ah, Miles, we have failed”. The Governess realizes that Miles is dead. She sings his Latin Malo ditty (remember, this homonym can say prefer, apple, bad, evilness): “Ah! Miles! Malo! Malo than a naughty boy, Malo in adversity.” Her last words are: “What have we done between us? Malo, Malo, Malo, Malo”. This is her requiem for Miles.