Only two years remain until Benjamin Britten’s centenary in 2013. It is unlucky for him that it should coincide with the bicentenaries of both Verdi and Wagner, but opera companies across the world are putting together their plans to mark the occasion – Glyndebourne not excepted, as the festival proudly hosted the premieres of two of Britten’s operas in its early years.
Even with Glyndebourne’s bigger, better theatre, the small Britten operas fit very well. The chamber opera The Turn of the Screw, with its small but vibrant orchestra of 13 players, demands intimate contact with its audience and, though Jonathan Kent’s 2006 production is not the most atmospheric, this revival makes a gripping evening.
The main problem is a lack of claustrophobia. The changing vistas are neatly represented by an empty white box with abstract elements such as a wall of windows, but the overall effect is too light and open, and the constant whirling of the stage revolve becomes an irritant. Perhaps that is meant to be the screw turning. Kent certainly increases the intensity: the bathing of the boy Miles and the later scene in his bedroom lift the veil from the story’s sexual undercurrents to the point where the opera starts to become quite uncomfortable viewing.
At the centre of the drama is the young, pretty, vulnerable Governess of Miah Persson. The very picture of 1950s innocence, she inhabits the role absorbingly and, near though she comes to the limits of her silvery soprano, sings with impeccable English and such insight that the nerve-endings of the character are laid bare.
Toby Spence starts proceedings eloquently in the prologue and makes a strongly sung Quint, well supported by Giselle Allen’s Miss Jessel. Susan Bickley’s Mrs Grose is so resolutely sung that she becomes the moral compass of the drama and there is a fully involving pair of children in Thomas Parfitt’s lightly sung Miles and Joanna Songi’s Flora. Jakub Hrusa, the conductor, might have spared the decibels a bit, but he is so skilful at winding the performance up to the high point of intensity, and the soloists of the London Philharmonic Orchestra play so well for him, that the opera is gripping on all levels. Roll on 2013.