Operatic chiller for Ustinov

THERE is little in the way of festive cheer in Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw, but it is a brilliant and thrilling stage version of Henry James’ famous novella – and we all love a good ghost story at Christmas, don’t we! A new production opens at Bath Theatre Royal’s Ustinov Studio on Friday 1st December, running to Saturday 23rd.

Directed by Isabelle Kettle, the production has been commissioned for the Ustinov artistic director Deborah Warner’s 2023/2024 season in Bath. The cast of The Turn of the Screw includes BBC Cardiff Singer of the World finalist Sarah Gilford (pictured) and internationally renowned soprano Anna Cavaliero, who share the central role of The Governess.

Britten’s intense and dramatic masterpiece is one of the greatest 20th century operas, demanding great acting as well as singing from its cast, including two children. Commissioned by the Venice Biennale and premiered in 1954, The Turn of the Screw was his final chamber opera.

It is the story of a young governess who is sent to a remote country house to care for two children. She becomes increasingly disturbed by their behaviour but is under strict instruction never to bother their guardian in London. Are they innocent or wicked, possessed or just high-spirited?

Royal Opera House soprano Emma Bell, who has performed in The Turn of the Screw across the world, shares the role of the house-keeper, Mrs Grose with Sarah Pring, who was recently seen on Sky Arts’ Anyone Can Sing as a mentor and vocal coach with English National Opera. Elin Pritchard, who plays Miss Jessel, has performed with Opera North, Opera Holland Park and English National Opera, and Royal College of Music alumni Xavier Hetherington plays Peter Quint. The roles of the children Miles and Flora are shared by Oliver Michael and Arlo Murray, and Catherine Mulroy and Maia Greaves.

The Turn of the Screw is the second presentation of Ustinov Opera following last year’s Dido and Aeneas, also directed by Isabelle Kettle, which was the first opera ever to be performed in the Ustinov. Head of Music at the Royal Opera House, conductor and pianist Richard Hetherington once again collaborates with Deborah Warner as the season’s Head of Music, working closely with the musical team for the production.

The Turn of the Screw has been reimagined for the Ustinov Studio and is performed with two pianos, flute and celeste, led by Music Director Henry Websdale with pianist Aleksandra Myslek and flautist Carys Grittins.

Photograph by Ellie Kurtz