An inexperienced governess worries that the children she is looking after are being corrupted by malevolent spectres. Benjamin Britten’s score, conducted by Richard Farnes, catches the atmosphere of the gloomy old hall in which the haunting takes place. He doesn’t hesitate, however, to give the audience a good jolt with startling timpani nor to sweeten the mix with harps to represent the innocence of the children.
Director Alessandro Talevi takes a reflective approach. Having the four-poster bed in every scene, even the moonlit forest, brings out the underlying sexual aspect of the opera. It also suggests that the whole story could be a dreamlike fantasy. Matthew Haskins’ lighting adds a sense of treat by exaggerating and distorting shadows to frightening effect.
Elizabeth Atherton gives the Governess a repressed puritan zeal but brings out her sense of vulnerability and even class-based inferiority. She approaches the four-poster bed as if it is a sinful luxury. Teenager James Micklethwaite is disturbingly effective as Miles. His performance is suitably ambiguous and leaves us uncertain whether Miles is possessed or uncertain how to express his growing sexuality.
Opera North capture the spirit of Henry James' original and provide a story that provokes both unease and contemplation.
- David Cunningham