We kicked off the 2022-2023 season with a new opera production: the audience at Budapest’s Müpa loved our premiere of The Turn of the Screw, by world-renowned British composer Benjamin Britten. In addition to Miah Persson in the leading role, the two child actors, Lucy Barlow and Ben Fletcher, also received big rounds of applause. The audience was particularly impressed by Ben Fletcher, whose “performance” of several piano parts on the piano on the set was so convincing that many thought they were actually hearing the young man playing the instrument himself (in addition to singing, Ben does take piano lessons). This ambiguity is, of course, perfect for the piece: as Iván Fischer says, “even the original story, in Henry James’ novel from the late 19th century, is of cult significance precisely because of its ambivalence.” Britten has elevated this to a new level: while the main question in the novel is whether or not ghosts exist, “Britten’s drama is a real clash between societal expectations, primarily strict Victorian morals, and the instincts and fantasies of an adolescent boy.” This results in a new ambivalence, for it is also possible to interpret Britten’s opera as a story in which the governess is right, wanting to free 10-year-old Miles from the abuse and seduction which she is rightfully and heroically fighting against. But an opposite interpretation of the story is also perfectly acceptable, where the governess - fanatically committed to her morals - is practically suffocating the child by trying to compel him to ‘be good,’” the conductor-director said in his interview with the weekly Magyar Narancs. Asked how the music fits with this serious and alarming story, our music director responded, “It is fantastic and rich, creating an original world which is perfectly in line with this frightening ghost story or psychological drama. With an orchestra of just thirteen members, Britten brings incredible colors to life and creates an exciting and dramatic atmosphere. Its musical language is complicated and modern, but it has an immediate effect on the listener. In my view, this is a masterpiece: one of the greatest treasures of opera literature.”
And speaking of child actors! For our Poppea production last year, we were joined by the brilliant Jakob Geppert from the Choral Academy of Dortmund; this year, the BFO’s production will feature the debut of talented English performers, who auditioned with the director and conductor of the piece himself during the orchestra’s tour in London. In fact: did you know that as a child, Iván Fischer performed in several operas as a member of the Opera’s children’s choir? What’s more, in 1964, Benjamin Britten himself heard Fischer, 13 years old at the time, sing at the Ybl Palace on Andrássy út, in a performance of the composer’s opera entitled Albert Herring.
We performed the unique piece by Britten only twice in Budapest; its next performance will be in late October at the Vicenza Opera Festival. Click here to view the entire season booklet, or click here to browse the season line-up by season pass type.