A new production of The Turn of the Screw from Opera Glassworks, conducted by John Wilson at London’s Wilton’s Music Hall, was three days from opening in March 2020 when the first lockdown hit.
Director Selina Cadell and producer Eliza Thompson managed to rebook the cast of six singers and 13 musicians (from John’s own orchestra, the Sinfonia of London) for a run in October. But as weeks of lockdown turned into months, it looked like the project would be scuppered.
At which point, they rethought it for film.
The stage director and producer took the opportunity to experiment. “We weren’t interested in live capture,” says Thompson. “But we didn’t want the fact that it was intended to be a stage production to be lost.”
This influenced not just their approach with singers and a working method with camera director Dominic Best across the 6-day shoot, but also with the individual players forming John Wilson’s orchestra.
With the perfectly captured, decayed grandeur of its main, high-vaulted space dating back to 1859, the thrillingly atmospheric, Victorian-era Wilton’s Music Hall translates perfectly into the chilly, remote country house and garden in which the ghostly actions occur. Designer Tom Piper seized the opportunity to make the entire building a film set.
“Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t have all the musicians there together,” says Thompson. “So with the auditorium completely filled, becoming a Suffolk reed bed, we’ve planted the musicians throughout the film. As the story progresses, it becomes more anarchic.”
Cadell and Thompson have capitalised on the opera’s unique construction, individual scenes interspersed with an instrumental theme and 15 variations, to enhance the work’s filmic, non-linear nature.
The performance, still in the edit prior to being distributed via arts channel Marquee TV, is an equally impressive advance born out of Covid necessity. The vocals were filmed live, with the singers using microphones but without the orchestra. Instead, using monitors, John Wilson conducted them against live keyboards. Once the singers’ tracks were laid down, the orchestra was recorded to fit the singers’ interpretations, which is how it should be. ~David Benedict, from The Stage, 20 Nov 2020
*Catch a glimpse of the man I love on the monitor at 00:33 or here at rehearsal.
When I was back in grad school, I did a paper on the novella this opera is based on, The Turn of the Screw, my take being that the whole thrust of the story had to do with, at its core, author Henry James’s weird revulsion to/fear of sexuality—any sexuality—gay, straight, bi, kinky, whatever… Which in my ignorant prejudice I took to be typical of all English men anytime, anywhere—until I remembered that James was born not just American but, like my son, a native New Yorker (used to take The Kid to the playground in Washington Square near James’s old house) and he turned out fine. So it was fascinating to hear and watch OperaGlass Works‘s no-emotional-holds-barred production with my brilliant, bonny conductor John Wilson at the musical helm. Above Opera GlassWorks’s filmed production at Wilton’s Music Hall (2020): Britten’s 1954 The Turn of the Screw, with a superior libretto by poet Myfanwy Piper. Singers: Jennifer Vyvyan, Peter Pears, Arda Mandikian, Joan Cross, Olive Dyer, and as the young and beautiful boy Miles, David Hemmings! The English Opera Group was conducted by the composer.
- “The Story So Far, with Conductor John Wilson”
- “The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits”