The Turn of the Screw

Reggio Emilia

May 19 and 21 - 2023

Benjamin Britten

The turn of the screw, Op. 54, chamber opera in a prologue and two acts

Icarus vs Muzak

Benjamin Britten’s music and his concept of Henry James’ psychological novel provide challenges to audiences more comfortable with the romantic and classical repertoire, but the rewards are many. Of particular strength in the opera is Myfanwy Piper’s English libretto, especially in its poetic representation of the ghosts’ thoughts.

The objection to Britten’s approach is that he reifies the ghosts rather than permitting alternative interpretations. Like Macbeth’s witches, the spirits have a scene of their own, undermining any reading, more appropriate to our times, that they are creatures of the governess’s mind. (Even the theatre’s most famous ghost, that of the late king in Hamlet, allows the interpretation that it is an imagining of the Prince.) The opera’s instrumentation is most effective and impressive, including only five strings but a range of interesting percussion and the celeste and harp, plus several woodwinds including exotic-sounding bass clarinet and bassoon. Their use in evoking the unsettling strangeness of the setting is quite intriguing.

John Henningham