: The Turn of the Screw (vocal score): Benjamin Britten: Musical Instruments. Turn of the Screw, Op. BH Stage Works – Benjamin Britten – Libretto · A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. BH Stage Works – Benjamin Britten – Vocal Score. Turn of the Screw, Op. Opera in a Prologue and Two Acts BH Stage Works – Benjamin Britten – Vocal Score · Turn of the Screw, Op. BH Stage Works.
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The Turn of the Screw is a disturbing work, a novelty in the opera world for being something of a horror story with genuine chills. Based on Henry James’s novel of the same name, it’s an old fashioned ghost story that touches on issues of a very contemporary nature. Musically it is one of Britten’s most interesting. The narrative is divided into a prologue and 16 scenes that are fairly episodic in nature. However they are connected together by variations of the “Screw” theme, built around the twelve note row.
The sequence ascends in the first Act and descends in the second. The prologue begins with just a piano accompaniment and the ensemble is a mere 13 players, yet the soundworld evoked feels far more substantial. Miles’s younger sister, though usually sung by an adult which means she’s often played older. The opera’s main protagonist, never given a name. A 20 year old woman, intelligent but volatile. She views herself as a heroine even if we’re not so sure. A fairly creepy boy of One of the two children the Governess has been sent to care for at Bly.
The housekeeper at Bly.
The Governess’s only adult companion srcew as a result her confidant. A narrator of sorts who opens the evening. Usually sung by the same singer as Peter Quint.
Britte male figure tells the audience of “a curious story, written in faded ink”: Nritten was hired by their guardian, an uncle living in London with no interest in caring for them himself. He instructed her to follow three rules: The Governess is nervous of her new position but is warmly greeted by Mrs Grose, the housekeeper, and the two children Flora and Miles. She feels a strange vvocal to Miles but is led off by Mrs Grose on a tour of the grounds around Bly.
Her fears depart her but she is soon scoer back to earth when a letter from Miles’s school arrives informing her that Miles has been expelled. No reason is given and she is convinced Miles is too innocent to have been expelled and it must be a mistake, she decides to ignore the letter. Wandering the grounds one evening, the Governess sees a strange man on the tower. She doesn’t recognise him and is unsettled by the whole experience.
The children play indoors, the Governess watching over them spots the same unknown figure at the window. She is concerned and describing him to Mrs Grose learns that he appears to be Peter Quint, the former valet.
Mrs Grose explains that Quint had an illicit relationship with the last Governess, Miss Jessel specifically that he “made free” with her.
They have both since died: Jessel away from the house, Quint falling on an icy road. Terrified the Governess fears he has return for Miles and swears to protect the children.
Miles is reciting Latin with help from Flora and the Governess. Praising him, the Governess asks scrfw you knows any other rhymes. Miles then produces quite one of the creepiest arias in all of opera ‘Malo’. By the side of lake at Bly, the Governess sits reading whilst Flora sings to her doll. Across the lake the Governess catches sight of a woman all in black, who disappears as mysteriously as she appeared.
The Governess believes Miss Jessel has returned as well and as Flora did not see her she becomes convinced that the children are lost. Quint calls out to Miles, tempting him from his bed with exotic and desirable visions, Miles is utterly ecrew.
Miss Jessel appears, attracting Flora, she laments her fate begging Flora to comfort her. Together scrrw try, successfully, to convince the children to find them.
Mrs Grose and the Governess entered terrified by the children’s apparent vanishing. The Governess scolds Miles. Quint and Jessel flesh out their motives and backstory.
They argue over their past and declare their determination to capture Miles and Flora. Separately the Governess despairs at the evil she feels, unable to decide how to act. The family head to church, the children singing a gently mocking variation of the ‘Benedicite’. Mrs Grose remains unaware of the subtext thinks it sweet until the Governess informs her of the children’s bizarre behaviour.
Mrs Grose suggests the Governess simply write to the guardian, which she unhappily declines. Miles creepily informs the Governess of his own awareness of the Ghosts leading her to contemplate fleeing Returning to the house, the Governess finds Miss Jessel in the schoolroom bemoaning her fate. Confronting her – Jessel vanishes. Believing the ghosts might not yet have the upperhand, the Governess writes to the guardian.
Later that night the Governess goes to Miles’s bedroom, coaxing him to tell her about what happened at his school. She tells him of the letter to his guardian but he barely responds as the voice of Quint intervenes, she leaves despondent. Miles is showing off at the piano. Flora sings, lulling Mrs Grose to slip before slipping out. Scgew Flora’s absence the Governess panicked awakens Mrs Grose. They hurry off to find her while Miles continues at the Piano.
Turn of the Screw, Op. 54
They find Flora by the lake, Mrs Grose tries to comfort her but the Governess seeing Miss Jessel britten tries to make Flora admit that she too can see Jessel. Flora madly accuses the Governess of cruelty and leaves with Mrs Grose. The Governess realizes she has lost Flora. The next morning Mrs Grose informs the Governess that having spent the night with Flora she is convinced that Flora is possessed by evil.
Benjamin Britten – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. 64 – vocal score
She presses him to confess, whilst Quint savagely demands Miles not betray him. Miles admits to stealing the letter but will not name Quint. Finally he cries out, ‘Peter Quint — you devil’ and dies. The Governess weeps, holding the dead Miles. Screw takes place entirely at Bly: It’s a period piece set around the s. The atmospheric setting strongly imitates the narrative, so much so that Britten almost called his opera: The period is important because some of the plot elements might seem odd to modern audiences.
To begin with the strange, absent guardian was not altogether unusual even brithen more loving families.
Benjamin Britten – The Turn of the Screw, op. 54 – vocal score
The industrial revolution was driving much of the wealth away from rural areas towards major cities. The breadwinner always the man might well work in London leaving his country estate in the hands of others, and whilst transportation was fast improving regular commuting was not yet feasible. Governesses were also a curious species in the Victorian era. Both servant and lady, in a strongly hierarchical society they were an anomaly.
The Governess was considered sclre moral conservator of sorts, bound to bring up children as good and proper.
The Turn of the Screw, op. 54 – vocal score
Our Governess seems to see herself in this image. Conversely Quint as the Valet dresses much like his master but is entirely a servant. Yet Quint has his own power, using utrn gender to seduce Miss Jessel, the last Governess, corrupting her in the eyes of society.
James was far from the only one to use this social limbo that Governesses occupied in Victorian life for fertile drama often with transgressive romantic themes. Screw was Britten’s final chamber opera. It was commissioned in for the Venice Biennale. Myfanwy Piper had years earlier suggested James’s The Turn of the Screw as a potential subject for a television opera and encouraged by Peter Pears, Britten asked her to put together an outline for how it might be adapted into an opera.
He was at this time working on Gloriana which had been commissioned for the upcoming coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. As a result it wasn’t until autumn of that serious work could begin. However Britten was suffering badly from acute bursitis in his right shoulder and could barely work. Piper began sending draft copies of the libretto in early and by this time Britten was reduced to writing letters to her with his left hand.
He had minor surgery in March and with the opera’s premiere set for September he was faced with an extremely tight schedule. He wrote the score in a little over 4 months from the end of March to August The premiere was so close that Imogen Holst, Britten’s amanuensis, would make a vocal score of each scene as it was completed so that the singers could begin preparing whilst the opera was still being written.
Britten wanted children to play the children but found it impossible to cast a suitable girl for the role of Flora so the part was given to an adult, Olive Dyer. Miles on the other hand went to a 12 year old David Hemmings who went on to be an extremely successful actor.
He would form a strong relationship with Britten – whose relationships with young boys has been the subject of much discussion – at least until his voice broke in during a performance of Screw in Paris. The opera was rehearsed in England with the entire team travelling to Venice for the premiere. The day of the premiere was a stressful one. The Italian stage crew threatened to go on strike and then, with the audience seated and ready to go, the performance had to be delayed because it was being transmitted live on the radio and an earlier broadcast had run over.
The reception, from a huge mix of international press, was fairly positive and fascinatingly a French newspaper referred to ‘the composer’s customary intense preoccupation with homosexual love’, which is very possibly the first unambiguous reference to Britten and homosexuality in the press.
The same team would present the opera at Sadler’s Wells and it was swiftly recorded in part because of fears Hemmings’s voice would break by Decca becoming the first complete record of a Britten opera.