Britten: The Turn of the Screw

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
ALBUM TITLE: The Turn of the Screw
WORKS: The Turn of the Screw
PERFORMER: Mireille Delunsch, Olivier Dumait, Gregory Monk, Nazan Fikre, Hanna Schaer, Marlin Miller, Marie McLaughlin; Mahler CO/Daniel Harding; dir. Luc Bondy
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 008
Britten with a French accent – but, much as I admired Opus Arte’s film (reviewed in May), this argues powerfully for live performance. Neither conductor nor producer have hitherto greatly impressed me, but this is as taut and suffocating as an impending thunderstorm. Daniel Harding’s reading is also strikingly lyrical and beautifully played; Luc Bondy’s staging is modern, but not abusive. Haunted Bly is seen only as a nursery dolls’ house; within, stark white walls shift and close in, or shimmer with light for the lake. The costumes, though, remain resolutely Victorian, and the singers deeply characterful.

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The Prologue is a distinctly Gallic fin-de-siècle decadent. Delunsch’s tall, attractive Governess, recalling Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, radiates neurotic idealism and sings acceptable English with silky power, sometimes at the cost of diction. Hanna Schaer’s eerily agonized Mrs Grose copes more naturally, even with dialect like ‘dursn’t’. Marie McLaughlin is an unusually powerful Miss Jessel, gleefully louche and vampiric, Marlin Miller’s elegantly sung Quint alarmingly paedophilic, a pair of grey-hued sexual obsessives locked in alcoholic mutual torment – ardent spirits, no doubt. The children, seasoned singer-actors, are correspondingly sinister – no doubts here that evil’s at work.

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Those alienated by accents or staging won’t go wrong with the film, or Arthaus Musik’s slightly less electric but more idiomatic version, featuring Helen Field’s fragile Governess (reviewed September 2003). But this is a vivid alternative view, in the best sense. Michael Scott Rohan