The usual way to do an opera DVD is to film a live stage performance. I guess because this is also the cheapest way. Various alternative ways of committing opera to film have been tried; some using the singers as actors and some using more photogenic actors with the singing dubbed over. In 2004 BBC Wales made a version of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw using the singers as actors. It makes for an interesting film. For example it allows for an appropriately aged girl to play Flora where in the opera house the role has to given to a young adult soprano. It also allows for the interior monologues, which feature a lot in this piece, to be sung with the actor not moving his/her lips. It also allows for some notable location shots by the lake and in the churchyard (Highgate Cemetery was used). Director, Katie Mitchell, makes good use of the options available to her to play with the elements of perception vs reality which are quite hard to communicate on stage.
The singing and playing are excellent and thoroughly idiomatic throughout. Mark Padmore (Prologue/Quint) sounds as if Peter Pears has come to haunt the production. Lisa Milne is thoroughly competent as the troubled governess and the ever dependable Diana Montague is an excellent foil as Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper. Catrin Wyn Davis is a very good Miss Jessel; scary as Hell but just not quite completely demented. The children are excellent. Nicholas Kirby Johnson as Miles and Caroline Wise as Flora look and sound like children. Better, they inhabit the roles of upper class Edwardian children almost uncannily. The tricky score (the vocal scenes are each preceded by a variation on a twelve tone theme) is played really well by the London Sinfonietta under Richard Hickox. All in all this is a really good presentation of one of Britten’s most interesting but problematic works.
The DVD is released by Opus Arte and it’s pretty much up to the standard of their recent offerings. The 16:9 picture is average to good DVD quality. Sound options are LPCM stereo or Dolby 5.1. A range of subtitles are included. English speakers won’t need the subtitles as the diction and articulation throughout are exemplary and the voices are never overwhelmed by the band, and nor should they be when a work is scored for thirteen musicians.
The Opus Arte trailer gives a pretty good idea of what to expect.