Notes and Editorial Reviews
Benjamin Britten’s haunting and sinister opera, composed in 1954, is based on the famous novella written by Henry James in 1898.
Katie Mitchell’s atmospheric and innovative film of the opera returns to the late 19th century setting of the original tale, to a world where it is hard to tell ghosts from mere reflections in the glass. <> There have been many discussions about what happened to the children in both the novella and Britten’s opera.
This production, with an inspired cast led by excellent performances from Lisa Milne and Mark Padmore, remains true to both sources.
The rich, dark imagery entices the viewer, exposing the deepest layers of the tantalising, unnamed and hidden past
relationships between the two servants and the children in one of the greatest operas of the 20th century.
Running Time: 116 minutes
Format: NTSC, Color, Anamorphic Widescreen 16:9, Dolby Digital 5.1, LPCM
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
R E V I E W S:
This is a terrific opera video, a rare success due not only to excellent performances and fine production courtesy of the BBC, producer Fiona Morris, and director Katie Mitchell, but above all to Britten's splendid score. The Turn of the Screw translates superbly to television and film thanks to its cinematic succession of swift scenes, not to mention its suggestive, supernatural element. Indeed, the piece is so well "scripted" that the most difficult job for the director must be simply to leave the bloody thing alone and let the music work its magic--and happily that is exactly what the BBC production team has done. The setting is both realistic and tasteful: a large country house in autumn, outwardly attractive but full of suggestive shadows and more than a little claustrophobic--increasingly so as the opera proceeds. Dress is sober: grays and blacks, with the portly Governess, Lisa Milne, voluptuously stuffed into her tightly buttoned costume in a manner that graphically suggests odd passions struggling to break through her inhibited exterior.
The treatment of the two ghosts also is perceptive, with minimal special effects and no sensationalism. Remember that the children hear them but can't see them, while the situation with the Governess is just the reverse. To her they are real, and so they seem to us. The final scene, in which Peter Quint's voice rides in on the wind with a swirl of dead leaves, beautifully captures the moment while permitting the camera to focus on the duel between Miles and the Governess.
Still, there are a few incongruities, such as the arrival of the Governess carrying her own luggage (surely she'd have been driven to the front door and would have packed at least one large trunk), but then I suppose that's poetic license. In any case, this production has it all over Colin Davis' video, with it's odd, hothouse ambience and badly lip-synched audio track. All of the singers here look their parts and act extremely well, not least the old-beyond-his-years Miles of Nicholas Kirby Johnson. Mark Padmore's Quint also is visually effective, at first appealing and unthreatening, but gradually, thanks to some effective makeup, menacing--in a sleazy sort of way.
There simply isn't a weak link in the cast. Lisa Milne sings one hell of a Governess: bewildered, determined, and wounded. Her performance makes it clear that it is not only the children whose innocence is "drowned". Diana Montague provides an excellent foil to her as Mrs. Grose, and Catrin Wyn Davies makes the most of the juicy but brief role of Miss Jessel. The two children, Johnson (already mentioned) and Caroline Wise as Flora, sing with spirit and accuracy, and Richard Hickox's direction gives the whole performance a compelling shape and plenty of momentum. My only reservation concerns the sonics, which place the orchestra at varying levels from one scene to the next, at times lessening the impact of the purely musical element but never to the point where it sounds like mere "accompaniment", as in a film score. This DVD strikes me as an almost perfect example of what a good opera for home viewing ought to be, and I can't recommend it more strongly. [5/17/2005]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Turn of the Screw, Op. 54 by Benjamin Britten
Nicholas Kirby-Johnson (Boy Soprano),
Catrin Wyn-Davies (Soprano),
Mark Padmore (Tenor),
Lisa Milne (Soprano),
Diana Montague (Mezzo Soprano),
Caroline Wise (Soprano)
City of London Sinfonia
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1954; England
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