Britten: The Turn of the Screw

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Britten
WORKS: The Turn of the Screw
PERFORMER: Helen Field, Menai Davies, Richard Greager, Phyllis Cannan, Machiko Obata, Samuel Linlay; Stuttgart RSO/Steuart Bedford; dir. Michael Hampe (Schwetzingen Festival, 1990)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 199
For all the psychological play of character in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, it should never be forgotten that on a basic level the opera is a ghost story. But you’d hardly guess so from this spookless film of a performance at the 1990 Schwetzingen Festival in Germany. Michael Hampe’s production, with sombre designs by John Gunter, looks promising enough, but the cameras fail to engage with it in any meaningful way, and a sense of atmosphere and the twisting of the dramatic screw rarely come across. It doesn’t help that at each scene-change the visual focus moves to the pit – and however much I admire Steuart Bedford’s conducting, I’d rather watch the curtain during the interludes.

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Fortunately, the excellence of much of the singing transcends the presentation. Only Machiko Obata’s frumpy, over-mature Flora seems ill-cast; otherwise, with Helen Field’s tortured Governess and Samuel Linay’s highly professional Miles – he even gives a convincing mime of his piano-playing in Act II – there is plenty to enjoy here. Menai Davies is a suitably down-to-earth, sceptical Mrs Grose and the two ghosts, despite over-egged miking, are effectively portrayed by Phyllis Cannan and Richard Greager. Yet all in all, the presentation does not really add more than you’d get from a good audio recording, and it so happens that Bedford’s even more strongly cast Collins account has just been reissued by Naxos – a bargain. And at least the sound there does not suffer from the tape wow and flutter on this DVD.

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Arthaus has at least deigned to provide more than its usual trailer as a bonus, though I’m not convinced a plot summary in stilted, German-accented English really adds anything significant. Matthew Rye