The Turn of the Screw, Coliseum, London
Thursday 29 October 2009
Britten's tersest, nastiest opera, written for a company of 13 musicians and five singers including two children, receives what must be the production of its lifetime in David McVicar's staging, conceived for the Mariinsky Theatre in 2006. ENO's unmissable revival adds to its X-ray of Victorian repression a cast that couldn't be bettered; and Sir Charles Mackerras creates an interpretation of equal transparency and tension.
The opera, in which a nameless governess strives to "save" a pair of children haunted by the ghosts of a depraved valet and ex-governess who have destroyed their innocence, is full of ambiguities; but McVicar's absolute realism, depth of character and attention to detail leaves few doubts as to the backstory of sexual abuse. He evokes a society in which emotion cannot be acknowledged, and in which nothing of real importance can be spoken aloud; and it is this depth of understanding that provides the ultimate "turn of the screw". Why does the young boy Miles drop dead in the final moments? Here, it seems palpable that it is admitting the truth – speaking aloud the name "Peter Quint" – that delivers the coup de grâce.
The children's demanding roles are central to the opera's success and on opening night, Charlie Manton's ideal Miles and Nazan Fikret's Flora matched the adults turn for turn – Fikret oozing suppressed fury, unable to cry for help under the good-little-girl veneer. The sexual pull between the governess and the young boy, knowing beyond his years, is desperately convincing; and Flora's body language as she listens to Miles singing his "Malo" song shows us the tip of the iceberg of terrible associations that the melody must carry.
Rebecca Evans and Ann Murray, resectively the Governess and Mrs Grose, are a dual lynchpin of great voices, great characters and complete verbal clarity. Evans is heart-rending, lovelorn over her crush on the children's absent guardian and driven to distraction by her understanding of the children's fate.
As the all-too-real ghosts, Michael Colvin is a defiant Peter Quint, his flowery melismas embodying decadence rather than spookiness, while Cheryl Barker as Miss Jessel, the ghost of his discarded lover, is a devastating portrayal of a soul trapped in emotional purgatory, her arms reaching out for him through the dead leaves on her grave.
To 9 November (0871 911 0200)
TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies
Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 2 Indian woman creates 'Marriage CV' after parents put her on dating site: 'Definitely not marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever'
- 3 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 4 Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
The 9 rules every Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon had to follow are wonderfully pedantic
Toy Story 4: Pixar promises a romcom storyline 'separate' from the much-loved trilogy
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Elif Shafak: Turkish author warns against rise of British nationalism
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests