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Britten: The Turn of the Screw (complete opera)
Joan Rodgers, Benjamin Britten, Daniel Harding
Britten: The Turn of the Screw (complete opera)
Genre: Classical
This clearly, carefully played performance of what is certainly one of the world's spookiest operas is just about everything but spooky. Conductor Daniel Harding has a feel for the music but not the atmosphere, and so som...  more »


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All Artists: Joan Rodgers, Benjamin Britten, Daniel Harding, Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Title: Britten: The Turn of the Screw (complete opera)
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: EMI Classics
Release Date: 9/17/2002
Genre: Classical
Style: Opera & Classical Vocal
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPCs: 724354552120, 072435455212

This clearly, carefully played performance of what is certainly one of the world's spookiest operas is just about everything but spooky. Conductor Daniel Harding has a feel for the music but not the atmosphere, and so some moments are rushed which ought to be lingered over and vice-versa. Star tenor Ian Bostridge sings the pivotal role of the ghostly Peter Quint with elegance and beautiful tone--certainly two attributes his predecessors on CD lacked--but these are traits that work against the character. His eerie calling of the boy's name over and over again early in the opera is a model of good singing of difficult music, but that's not what we should be noticing. A pity, since Joan Rodgers's Governess is near ideal in her combination of terror, sadness, and weirdness. The children are convincing (though the Miles is not as good as David Hemmings on Britten's own recording), and as mentioned, the playing is near perfect and all the instruments in this wonderfully, economically scored work are audible. This is a truly great opera. You should own the Decca version, led by the composer himself, despite that it isn't up to this new one sonically. Bostridge fans will not be disappointed here, but Britten fans will want to hear Peter Pears in the role of Quint. --Robert Levine

CD Reviews

Fine recording of a haunting opera
Vincent Lau | 09/18/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I always find Benjamin Britten's chamber opera THE TURN OF THE SCREW to be rather fascinating, as the work, which is based on Henry James' novella, is amenable to different interpretations. "Are Peter Quint and Miss Jessel ghosts, or are they merely figments of the imagination of the Governess?" one may ask. Stage producers can therefore either subscribe to the "hallucination theory or the "apparition school", or indeed a mixture of both. However, with Peter Quint and Miss Jessel actually singing quite a lot in the opera (unlike those mute phantoms in James' literary creation) and apparently communicating actively with the children, it is quite inevitable that the audience may conclude that some supernatural powers are indeed at work in Bly. Anyway, the unrelieved dramatic tension of the plot, the clever musical and structural design of the opera, the vivid characters and the splendid orchestration for a chamber orchestra comprising of virtuoso instrumentalists have rendered this work a masterpiece.Like the case for the drama, there can be different interpretations for some of the roles, as shown in this new recording of the complete opera by Virgin Classics. Joan Rodgers, in the central role of the Governess, gives a splendid performance. Her voice, young sounding and radiantly lyrical, is perfect for the part. Some may find this Governess not sufficiently desperate when confronted by the worsening scenario. Yet, I believe Rodgers has here chosen an alternative approach that highlights the steely will power of the character. Indeed, one can gradually sense the Governess's increasing determination, and perhaps even obsession, in protecting the children, Miles in particular, which somehow renders her no less a predator vis-a-vis the children than Quint, and therefore equally responsible for the final tragedy. Indeed, when she and Quint sing the same musical lines (but to slightly different texts) immediately after the collapse of Miles, one realises with a shudder that perhaps the Governess and Quint are actually spiritual siblings and, instead of being deadly opponents, are merely the two sides of the same coin, as has been hinted at by Britten's remarkable music for these two pivotal roles.Quint is here sung by Ian Bostridge, who delivers an object lesson in operatic pronunciation. His is extremely vivid in the Prologue, making every word tell and thereby very successfully sets the stage for the enigma that is to unfold. In the opera proper, this fine tenor, who has garnered so much praise for his lieder singing, infuses every note with meaning, from which one can get more than a glimpse of the sinister nature of the dark character that he is portraying. Quint's eerie melismas at his first vocal entrance are incanted with great musical precision. That said, I found this passage to be not as rhythmically pliant or seductive as it should be, in particular as these vocal melismas are usually regarded as the personification of sweet corruption. Vivian Tierney is a gleaming and vocally rock solid Miss Jessell, who succeeds in conveying much of the character's frustration, even though a more melancholic or mournful delivery of some of her laments may have suited the role even more. Jane Henschel is a formidable Mrs Grose. While her voice is a trifle too large for the role, and her singing at times sounds a little unwieldy, her characterization (through subtle vocal inflections) is enormously interesting for, unlike the straight-forward and up-right house-keeper that we usually encounter in the part, one cannot be sure this time which side of the fence she is actually sitting on. Quite a dramatically ambiguous, and therefore interesting, portrayal! The children roles of Miles and Flora are often difficult to cast, and here they are taken by Julian Leang and Caroline Wise, whose voices and demeanor suit the characters well. Yet, Leang sometimes sounds a trifle too weak in voice, especially in the final scene where Miles, forced into a tight corner by the two adults, should more appropriately sound like a person at the end of his tether rather than the wayward kid who is merely sulking. Daniel Harding and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra give a refreshing, texturally transparent and technically most accomplished account of the wonderful score. The instrumentalists all play with diamond precision and their teamwork is exemplary. Their evocation of nature is beautifully handled and there is always a palpable sense of inner tension, which is so important for this work. However, some of the climaxes (such as the duet of Quint and Miss Jessell that opens Act II, the macabre piano-playing scene and the final passacaglia) are somewhat understated (or too cautiously handled) such that some of their musical impact is lost as a result. This recording, made just before a series of critically acclaimed production at Covent Garden, was recorded at the Maltings Concert Hall, Snape in January 2002. The acoustics, spacious yet with a sense of intimacy, suit the piece rather well. The balance between the voices during ensembles is also well judged. Besides the full libretto, the CD booklet also contains an article, although I found its contents to be not as illuminating as those which accompany some other versions. All in all, despite some minor reservations, this is a fine-recorded account of a most haunting opera."
MOVIE MAVEN | New York, NY USA | 10/01/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Benjamin Britten is one of the great composers of the Twentieth Century and, personally, one of my all-time favorites. That said, I just do not understand the "necessity" of a new recording of his opera THE TURN OF THE SCREW when there are three first-rate recordings available, one of them quite extraordinary.The opera is certainly not as frequently performed as are either of Britten's two masterpieces, PETER GRIMES and BILLY BUDD mainly, I would guess, because it is a small story told with a small cast and a small (13 pieces total) orchestra. It simply would be drowned in most opera houses. The last time I saw the opera in a very interesting production at the New York City Opera, the space and the number of seats simply engulfed the characters; one could not concentrate on the story. How terrific it would be to see THE TURN OF THE SCREW in a theatre with only, say, 1000 seats.The story is, of course, based on the Henry James novella and it is brilliantly set to music by Britten, with two starring roles for children as well as the soprano who plays their governess. There was a fine movie adapted from the James which starred Deborah Kerr as the children's governess and a more recent one, with Nicole Kidman.The main reason for buying this CD set is because Ian Bostridge, a true star tenor, is playing the role of "Peter Quint." Bostridge has a gorgeous voice and, in person, he is a handsome, sensual performer. But in this recording, at least, there is not enough of the other-wordly about him, not enough depth of character, not enough acting and, in fact, too much purely beautiful singing.THE TURN OF THE SCREW is a wonderful musical drama. If you want to investigate it, try the original recording on Decca starring Britten's muse, the incomparable Peter Pears."
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 04/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A good many years ago I attended a performance of The Turn of the Screw with Pears as Quint. Enough recollection stays with me to put Bostridge into some sort of context, and the general quality of the rest of that staging was nowhere near in the class of what we have here. I also had the opportunity to hear Daniel Harding conduct a concert of standard fare by Wagner, Mahler and Beethoven in Berlin just under a year ago, and this set reinforces what I suspected at that time, namely that great things might be expected of Harding were he given a bigger challenge.

This performance is nothing short of electrifying so far as I'm concerned. Harding's very thrusting tempi are to my own taste, as the plot of this sinister and ambiguous story tumbles headlong through fear, panic and nightmare. Neither Bostridge as Quint nor Vivian Tierney as Miss Jessel try to sing in `haunted-house' voices, nor should they in my opinion. In life both had obviously exercised personal human magnetism, however twisted or perverted Quint's personality might have been. Britten himself handles the sinister dimension through his vocal line and his orchestration, and he does not overdo it. Many years earlier Schubert had the sense and insight not to set the speeches of Goethe's Erlking to spooky music whereas Loewe did not, and interpreters should not try to force the issue here either. In any case no composer would give a bogeyman part to a tenor. Really this point is part and parcel of how one reads the story as a whole. Are Quint and Miss Jessel `real' in the sense that you or I might have seen or heard them if we had turned up on the scene collecting for charity or in some such totally uninvolved capacity? The more `real' they are in that sense the less they should be acted as fairground bogeys - the whole meaning of this story depends on the grip that Quint and Jessel retain on the children from the other side, and they gained that grip in the first place through being attractive human personalities in some sense. James quite explicitly refused to come off the fence as regards this, and just as explicitly said that it was for us to do our best with the question. I don't even believe that the admirable libretto by Myfanwy Piper comes off the fence either (nor should it), despite putting utterances into the mouths of the two and even giving them a ghostly dialogue - this could be perfectly well explained as dramatic licence, with the dead talking through their interaction in life as they might have been supposed to do while they still saw the sunlight. As for the rest, the Governess is a young, inexperienced and presumably nubile woman, Mrs Grose is an impressionable old biddy, and Miles is a boy on the verge of puberty, the very age most associated with recorded cases of poltergeists, telekinetic manifestations and other such problematical occurrences. What seems clear enough is that it was certainly not all just imagination or `dreaming'. At the very least there was some kind of `atmosphere' around the house of Bly, and I myself countenance no explanation that removes this great tale from the category of `ghost story'.

One can nitpick in various ways if one wants to, but I don't given that I side with the production in respect of the major points of issue. Jane Henschel's voice is probably more suggestive of the Royal College of Music than of a simple uneducated countrywoman, but what really made a big impression on me was how successfully this production dealt with the practical problem of a 2-hour-plus music-drama in which there is only one resonant male voice, and that in a comparatively brief part. The fast underlying pulse contributes a lot to this particular success, I don't for a moment doubt. The youngsters do very well indeed, the orchestra, who I understand to be a handpicked group, perform quite brilliantly in a dazzlingly-written score, and the recording does them all justice.

The liner note is far better than many, but it irritated me a little through its pretentious tone. The material on the music itself is more what a BMus student might write to impress examiners rather than my idea of something that gives illumination to the listener. As regards the background, it is really quite insightful here and there despite a certain amount of psychobabble (`...a knowing innocent caught between a threatening lover and a stifling mother-figure is perhaps too down to earth...and ultimately too reductive in general') and sociobabble (`...he is at another level equally preoccupied with the issues of social control and oppression resulting from the imposition of sexuality as a controlling force in modern society - issues which are no less social for being presented in this oblique guise'). Where it does seem to me acute and to the point is in recognising the effects of a culture that met even the normal processes of sexuality with repression and with denial. That this must have been particularly stressful and confusing for a composer whose own inclinations were literally a crime if acted on in his day seems only too easy to imagine. That the tensions thus engendered were a powerful stimulus to his genius I do not doubt either, and his pain is our gain."