While Peter Grimes and Billy Budd are the grandest operas in the Britten works list, widely seen as his masterpieces, The Turn of the Screw stands as his greatest achievement in the genre of chamber opera. As a work of live theater it can be devastating, as in productions reviewed here from Lorin Maazel's Châteauville Foundation and the Mariinsky Theater. This is the first DVD of the opera to come under review, although there are several others available beside it (more to come about that). Steuart Bedford, former director of the Aldeburgh Festival, conducted this fine production at the Schwetzinger Festpiele in Stuttgart, in 1990. The cast can hardly be called stars, but they are all well suited to the roles and sing with poise and (mostly) native British pronunciation. Helen Field is a slender, wild-eyed Governess, with an edgy, nervous vibrato that reinforces the character's hysterical paranoia. Menai Davies is a solid, matronly Mrs. Grose, and Phyllis Cannan an intensely insistent Miss Jessel.
Britten, The Turn of the Screw, H. Field, R. Greager, Schwetzinger Festspiele, S. Bedford
(released May 20, 2003)
Arthaus Musik 100 198
Richard Greager's Quint loses some of his menace as he becomes more visible but sings with power and clarity. (Mark Padmore's Quint, heard on a recent DVD in the Richard Hickox-led City of London Sinfonia series, is superior.) Director Michael Hampe made the interesting choice to have Miss Jessel and Quint sing from distances in their earliest scenes, behind doors and scrims, high above the stage on a balcony. The otherworldliness is enhanced by some sort of amplification of only those singers throughout, an ingenious idea that nevertheless plays havoc with the balance between voices. The only slightly odd casting choice was Machiko Obata's Flora, standing out more by comparison to the creepy, introspective Miles of treble Sam Linay. Bedford weaves a tight accompaniment from the fifteen players of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in the pit, an envelope of sound that is scaled to the singers and terrifying in its delicacy of color.