The Turn of the Screw, Grand Theatre, Leeds
Strange News, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Alessandro Talevi's high-risk production around an old four-poster pays off, with a terrific Opera North cast and an astonishing richness of sound

Bly House is shrunk to a four-poster bed in Alessandro Talevi's Opera North production of The Turn of the the Screw.

Place of slumber and seduction, birth and death, this relic of Victorian order sits centre-stage in Madeleine Boyd's tilted nursery set, a frame for the violent jolts and lurches of the Governess's journey, a theatre for peculiar fantasies and games, the engine of Britten's opera. Below it lie the puppets that Flora will use to tell her story, behind it a rocking horse that bucks and jerks, riderless in the half-light. Powered by the children's dreams at the end of Act I, the faded floral wallpaper lifts to reveal a tropical Neverland, half-Rousseau, half-Sendak, where Miles cavorts. Can this loose-limbed boy be bad? Slipping into the Governess's bed, his arm extended in invitation, he can.

Set in the aftermath of the First World War, this production is more sympathetic to the Governess than most. It's not difficult to imagine her backstory – a fiancé lost to the trenches, perhaps – or to believe in her chaste fright at the children's oddness. The infatuation with her employer is downplayed, her dedication taken at face value. Cherished, mourned and feared by Miles (James Micklethwaite) and Flora (Fflur Wyn), the ghosts of Miss Jessel (Giselle Allen) and Peter Quint (Benjamin Hulett) grow in stature and definition as the upright, earnest Governess (Elizabeth Atherton) begins to believe in them too. Excepting Mrs Grose (Yvonne Howard), she is the only character who is not in thrall to sexual impulses, the only innocent left at Bly.

While Atherton holds the show, Talevi has fun with the children – placing them on the tallboy to eavesdrop in doll-like stillness, sending Flora up to the canopy of the four-poster to act out the death of Miss Jessel, replacing Miles's piano practice with a wild eurythmic dance to the gramophone's brittle scales and Alberti bass. Hulett's Quint moves cat-like, his red hair brightening with each twist of Britten's variations, his voice transformed from the clipped upper-class diffidence of the Prologue to a heroic, insinuating oiliness, while Allen's Jessel clutches a belly taut with late pregnancy, her face twisted with fury and bitterness. The vocal characterisation of Opera North's ensemble cast is exceptionally good throughout: a high-risk, intense reading of dry gasps and baleful swoons that reflects Richard Farnes's tense realisation of the score. An astonishing richness and diversity of sound and texture from just 13 players, and one that creeps under the skin and stays there.

The composer Iannis Xenakis had little interest in conventional notions of vocal beauty. Nuits, which opens with microtonal keening and closes with a grunt, is a case in point. Performed by the group Exaudi, it was the first of two works awkwardly tacked on to London Sinfonietta's UK premiere of Rolf Wallin and Josse de Pauw's Strange News, the other being Maldon – Michael Finnissy's gory legend of Anglo-Saxon/Viking warfare for baritone soloist (Leigh Melrose), choir, percussion and trombones. In a different context, it would be easy to go with the flow, to recoil from inhumanity as Xenakis and Finnissy presumably intended. But Strange News presents a world in which all assumptions about violence are turned upside down. March into a village, steal the goats, murder the adults and rape and abduct the children and those children will still want to please, to be good.

Goodness is central to Wallin and De Pauw's multimedia work. Narrated by actor Arthur Kisenyi, Strange News is a first-person memoir of a former child soldier, brutalised into being "a good soldier" and later quietly desperate to be "a good person". The video opens with an introduction by a newsreader (Jon Snow) before a blizzard of horrific documentary footage from Uganda and the Congo. Helicopters thunder overhead (surround sound speakers), with the crack of gunfire and the tight, blistered, glaring report of hard-bitten strings. What surprises, almost guiltily, is the beauty of some of Wallin's music: the sweetness of oboe, flute and muted trumpet, the dissolving delicacy of the electroacoustic landscape, the affectless balm of the African rain. "I want a life like yours" concludes the narrator, "Would that be possible?"

Mitsuko Uchida's Royal Festival Hall recital of Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin was a quiet revolution. Regardless of who admired whom at any given point (Schumann declared Chopin a genius in 1831), here were three composers as unalike in temperament and timbre as can be imagined, and four works with distinct soundworlds. We think we know what to expect of each of them. Yet here was the second movement of Beet-hoven's Sonata in E minor, Opus 90, played with a Schumannesque vocal fluidity, its bass notes not percussive, almost bowed. Here was robust Beethovenian wit in Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze and, more surprisingly, the soft gleam of Chopin. Here, in Chopin's Prelude in C sharp minor, was the cool shimmer of Schumann's "Mondnacht" from Lieder-kreis. Here in the Largo of his Sonata No 3 in B minor was the poise of the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" (later the single encore).

Such connections cannot be made without the most detailed preparation. Weight is given to notes we mightn't notice, while the cannonade of Chopin's Finale seemed airborne, almost easy. Uchida's genius is such that this study is cast off in the moment of performance, so that infinitesimal attention to articulation, nuance, colour and voicing does not stifle the breath of a phrase. Such delicate, joyful playing, such arresting musical ideas.

'The Turn of the Screw' (0844 848 2706) to 21 Oct, then touring

Next Week:

Anna Picard brushes up her Shakespeare with Alexander Goehr's King Lear adaptation, Promised End

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?