Emma Warner (Flora), William Gardner (Miles), Sylvia Hamvasi (The Governess) | (c) Thilo Beu
The Turn of the Screw
Benjamin Britten
Revival
Duration: about 2¼ hours, one interval
Duration: about 2¼ hours, one interval
THE PROLOGUE

A narrator tells of a governess engaged to look after two orphans at Bly, a remote country house. The children’s guardian stipulates that she is not to involve him in what goes on and on no account to contact him. After initial hesitation the governess accepts the offer.


ACT ONE

SCENE 1 – THE JOURNEY
The governess doubts that she is capable of her new task.

SCENE 2 – THE RECEPTION
Mrs Grose the housekeeper prepares Flora and Miles for greeting their new governess. The latter is enthusiastic about the children’s natural openness of manner. Mrs Grose is relieved at this, because bringing up the spirited children has been proving too much for her. Flora and Miles are eager to show the governess the house and the grounds at once.

SCENE 3 – THE LETTER
Mrs Grose hands the governess a letter informing that Miles has been expelled from school. The governess is afraid that he must have behaved badly, but Mrs Grose contradicts, and the sight of the children playing innocently reassures the governess, who decides to take no action on the letter.

SCENE 4 – THE TOWER
The governess is pleased with her life and her work at Bly. Wishing the guardian could see how well she gets on with the children, she notices a dark shadowy form. At first she takes it for the guardian, but then she has the impression that a stranger must be in the house.

SCENE 5 – THE WINDOW
While Miles and Flora play exuberantly, the governess is uneasy. She thinks she has seen an apparition at the window and tells Mrs Grose about it. From her description of the uncanny figure Mrs Grose recognizes the former servant Peter Quint. She says he had a bad influence on the children, bringing especially Miles into his power, and that Miss Jessel, the previous governess, had also been under his dominance. Both had lost their lives under mysterious circumstances. The governess resolves to protect the children.

SCENE 6 – THE LESSON
Miles impresses the governess with his expert knowledge of Latin. Flora feels herself at a disadvantage and demands more of the governess’s attention for herself. The next time she turns to Miles, he begins to sing a sad little song.

SCENE 7 – THE LAKE
The governess has noticed that her relationship to Flora is strained. She tries to meet this by testing Flora on geography. But Flora rebuffs her and sings a lullaby to her doll instead. The governess sees an apparition of Miss Jessel and is horrified.

SCENE 8 – IN THE NIGHT
Miles und Flora pass a sleepless night. The governess also is torn out of her sleep und wakes Mrs Grose. They both hurry to go to the children.


ACT TWO

SCENE 1 – DIALOGUE AND MONOLOGUE
Quint and Miss Jessel have an argument. Miss Jessel accuses Quint of making a tool out of her. But she also is looking for somebody to dominate. The governess feels herself caught in a labyrinth of evil.

SCENE 2 – THE BELLS
The children start singing a docile psalm, but distort it more and more into mocking verses. The governess suspects that Quint and Miss Jessel have guided their tongues. Mrs Grose advises her to write to the guardian. But the governess demurs. Alone with Miles, she feels that he is provoking her. His taunts unsettle her: she thinks that she has failed and wants to leave Bly.

SCENE 3 – MISS JESSEL
The governess is confronted by Miss Jessel, who recalls being her predecessor at Bly. The governess senses a dangerous rivalry in her attitude, and decides after all to write a letter to the children’s guardian.

SCENE 4 – THE BEDROOM
Before going to sleep Miles sings his sad little song again. The governess tells him that she has written to their guardian in the hope of finding out what previously happened at Bly, and she assures him that she is out to save him; but Quint’s voice tells Miles to be silent.

SCENE 5 – QUINT
Quint persuades Miles to steal the governess’s letter to the guardian.

SCENE 6 – THE PIANO
Miles demonstrates his musical talent to Mrs Grose and the governess, while Flora amuses herself with a string-pulling game. But their thoughts are elsewhere. While the governess is attending to Miles, Flora manages to lull Mrs Grose’s attention and slips away from her. Both women rush off in pursuit.

SCENE 7 – FLORA
Mrs Grose and the governess find Flora. The governess wants to know where Miss Jessel is. But the child keeps silent. Then Miss Jessel appears to the governess. Flora and Mrs Grose deny being able to see her. The governess feels herself betrayed and fears that she has lost Flora to Miss Jessel.

SCENE 8 – MILES
Mrs Grose indicates to the governess that her fears are justified. The governess advises her to take Flora to her guardian, but then learns that the guardian never received the letter she wrote. They suspect Miles of being behind this. When Mrs Grose and Flora have gone, the governess commands him to confess. He is to say who has a hold over him; but Quint’s voice forbids Miles to reveal the secret. Al length Miles cannot stand the strain, screams Quint’s name and falls lifeless into the governess’s arms. Hoping that she has at last rescued Miles from evil, she is forced to see that she has now lost him for ever.

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