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

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living