There is no getting away from this being a deeply troubling story with disturbing themes whether suggested or apparent. This Louisa Muller production, with Welsh soprano Sophie Bevan in the leading role, does not attempt to avoid this, rather there are times when you fairly wince at the physical manifestations of the implied relationships within the opera.
It is interesting watching a horror story, set in a decrepit old house, on a gorgeous sunny afternoon in Garsington’s modern and elegant glass box of an auditorium, yet this is sometimes turned to the director’s advantage – such as being able to watch the dead Jessel slowly walk not only off the stage but down the sides of the opera pavilion itself. Similarly, as she and the other “dead” character Quint are very much real stage presences rather than shady suggested figures (occasionally we do see Quint through the grimy windows of the house but just as often in full sight).
Would blackness outside have added to the horror? Probably, but then this is so much more than a gothic shocker. There is no problem in building the tension in Bly House, as it is contained in the haunting music that Richard Farnes brings from the Garsington Opera Orchestra, the psychological nuances in Myfanwy Piper’s libretto and the gripping performances.
While Bevan splendidly evokes the inner troubled mind of the Governess and Ed Lyon and Katherine Broderick are menacing and chilling as Quint and Jessel, I found the boy Miles from Leo Jemison the most profoundly sinister performance. The subtle glances, the look of innocence as he sings seemingly charming children’s songs and the gut wrenching struggle for control with Quint.
Leo Jemison and Ed Lyon
Katherine Broderick and Sophie Bevan
Katherine Wilkinson and Sophie Bevan
The other inhabitants of the 19th century-set production, based on Henry James’ novel, Kathleen Wilkinson’s richly sung performance of the hard to really fathom Mrs Grose and Miles’ sister Flora who is a more twisted character, again convincingly performed by Adrianna Forbes-Dorant, watching, wryly smiling at times and quite ghastly when she chillingly drowns her doll. They both escape this crumbling world where, in Christopher Oram’s set, the floor has already fallen in, revealing a water channel through which the ghosts of Jessel enters and departs and where the Governess finally makes her exit.
Measured and thrillingly sung, Sophie Bevan captures the peculiar downward spiral of the Governess and her relationship with her odd employer and the children, particularly Miles. Neither survive in this take on the tale.
Yes, it is a scary story and as dusk falls at Garsington the atmosphere like the weather chills. Yet, in this production it is also a shiver-with-repulsion story, with the physical as well as sung closeness of Quint to Miles in particular as malevolent a force as you could find in any contemporary thriller.
Images: Johan Persson
Until July 19