Discs: Tightening the Screw
Saturday 07 May 1994
SEXUAL repression, child abuse . . . suffice it to say, Britten's perfectly formed little masterpiece has acquired a few additional layers of subtext over the years. Is the Governess victim of a powerful infatuation with her employer? Are he and Peter Quint essentially one and the same? What really happened between Quint and the boy Miles?
For sure, Henry James's ghost story is about a good deal more than demonic possession - good versus evil. But the drama is in the psychology, and much of that is left unspoken. From the moment Britten's tiny orchestra proliferates from the solo piano of the Prologue, it's all in the mind. Dream factory time. The resourcefulness of the scoring remains one of Britten's finest achievements. Clarity and ambiguity miraculously co-exist. You could take away the voices and still keep the narrative alive.
Steuart Bedford's Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble do just that with riveting incisiveness and theatricality. When Miles throws down his challenge to the Governess in the churchyard scene, the intensity of the orchestral release makes for a true apotheosis, the point on which the entire drama, the screw, will turn.
No flaws in the casting, either. Felicity Lott is an affecting Governess, tempering formality with a womanly allure. And she is terrifically commanding in the frustration and anguish of her later scenes.
But the heart of darkness beats in Quint's seductive vocal melismas, and Philip Langridge has long since put to rest the ghost of Peter Pears. Sam Pay's Miles succumbs touchingly. Will we ever really know the full significance of his terrible cry 'Peter Quint, you devil'?
I'VE always felt that Britten as interpreter of his own music tended to pull his punches - at least on record. Well, self-revelation on paper is one thing; as a confessional, the studio leaves a lot to be desired. While the old mono Britten recording is full of haunting things, this is the version that chills, from the first, ominous presentation of the 'Screw' theme to the anguished fragmentation of the little 'Malo' tune at the end.
Steuart Bedford handles the pacing very surely. However spare the writing, the tension never ebbs, and there's some beautiful solo playing. Britten's claim that writing The Turn of the Screw was 'like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube that's nearly finished' is harder than ever to believe. Operas are almost expected to have musical lacunae - not this one.
It isn't all gains, I admit. Sam Pay, as the ambiguous 'innocent' Miles, is a little more reticent, less secure than David Hemmings, the role's creator on record and in the theatre, though his mounting anxiety in the final, fatal show-down is convincing enough.
But Felicity Lott is a superb Governess, heroic yet fragile, at once striving to uncover the truth and fighting against the realisation she dreads. Philip Langridge's Quint is on the same high level: insidiously charming, but increasingly revealing his craving for life and . . .
And those who see the other ghost, Miss Jessel, as a dramatic failure may revise their opinions after hearing Nadine Secunde: the role remains secondary, but its contribution to the nightmare atmosphere is enhanced. Even the ghosts' Colloquy, with its carefully underlined Yeats quotations, compels - not a trace of archness. If you thought the composer's recording was definitive (a dubious concept anyway), try this and think again.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kylie Jenner challenge: Bizarre lip suction device inspired by Kardashian sister goes viral
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor are reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 4 Bruce Forsyth backs assisted dying campaign: 'If I had Alzheimer's or dementia I would do something about it'
- 5 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate