“For as long as I can remember (well, since I saw my first opera in 1976) I have longed to direct this brilliantly unsettling masterpiece; dark, vicious, moody, powerful, moving, haunted. No other opera in the repertoire dances around the dangerous with such flair.”
– Stuart Maunder
Regarded by many as the finest of Benjamin Britten’s stage works, The Turn of the Screw is based on the novel of the same name by Henry James: a tale of striking contrasts between good and evil, natural and supernatural, mortal and other-worldly.
In a remote country house, the newly-appointed governess arrives to take charge of the orphaned Flora and Miles. She must fight to protect them from strange and menacing spirits. But are these apparitions real, or the product of her troubled imagination? And what terrible evil occurred before her arrival?
If this sounds like one of your Netflix picks, keep reading.
FROM PAGE TO STAGE, TO SCREEN
Henry James’ 1898 novel The Turn of the Screw has been brought to film, TV, and the stage at least 27 times, so don’t be surprised if it rings bells even if you haven’t read it.
From a Broadway play in the ’50s, then transposed for the silver screen in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, co-written by Truman Capote and starring Deborah Kerr to the Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor, the spine-tingling story of the Governess fighting ghosts has been retold in distinctly different and unique ways.
The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, borrowed some elements of the plot and setting, and references can be spotted in episodes of popular TV series, such as Star Trek, Lost or CSI.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Musically, The Turn of the Screw is one of Britten’s most interesting works.
The narrative is divided into a prologue and 16 relatively episodic scenes, all connected with variations of the “Screw” theme, built around the twelve-note row.
This idea is deliberately (and eerily!) childlike in its simplicity.
LISTEN TO THE HIGHLIGHS
“IT’S A CURIOUS STORY…”
A work opening with this line already makes you wonder what could happen to its characters. But some curious events indeed happened before Britten’s masterpiece made it to the stage:
- Benjamin Britten wrote The Turn of the Screw in just four months! The premiere was so close that Imogen Holst, Britten’s assistant, would make a vocal score of each scene as Britten completed them so that the singers could begin preparing whilst the opera was still being written.
- The day of the premiere at the Venice Biennale was also fraught – the stage crew threatened to go on strike and then the performance had to be delayed because it was being transmitted live on the radio and an earlier broadcast had run over!
- However, the ghostly opera was not cursed after all – it was well received and today is the second-most performed opera in English worldwide. In 1959, it also became the first ever full-length opera to be broadcast on British independent television.