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What does it feel like to be the governess?


What does it feel like to be the governess?

Interview with Miah Persson

The main character in The Turn of the Screw is the Governess, who the other characters perceive as a mad woman who persists in seeing ghosts. What is it like to sing and perform this role?

Playing the Governess is always a great challenge. The opera is quite short with both acts only being 50 minutes long, but it is very intense and emotionally draining so I always feel physically tired after a show. At the same time, it is a “dream role” in the sense that it is very challenging, but equally rewarding. The music is so beautiful - albeit complex. Regarding the Governess and if she’s actually seeing the ghosts - that is a question for the director. Is she really the only one seeing them, experiencing them, or is everyone doing it but not wanting to admit it or dare to acknowledge it? In earlier productions, I have had the stage directors both asking me to act as if I’m the only one seeing them, but also that the children were very involved with the ghosts and lying to me, denying that they see them. I have to say that the version where the children were lying to me - where they were almost protecting Quint and Miss Jessel - was very interesting and gave the production more intricate layers.

In some of your previous performances, how did directors deal with this special topic?

This is a very interesting question. I find her to be a bit of both - a bit mad and seeing the ghosts. But I guess her madness is more of an obsession - she wants to do a good job for the guardian and also save the children, in particular Miles. It is a very complex story, and you really want to do it justice. Not overplaying, but being “just right.”

The way Britten turns the play into an opera, he engenders erotic feelings toward children. What do you think about that? Especially in our times, when this is a “hot button issue.” Is this not dangerous?

This is a very delicate question indeed. For me personally, I don’t think her obsession with Miles is necessarily of an erotic kind. In the beginning of the opera the Governess goes to London to meet the children’s guardian and she is very impressed and overwhelmed with everything about him. She has this romantic, almost childlike crush on him, and I think that when she sees Miles at Bly for the first time, she transfers some of those feelings to him. Maybe Miles looks like his uncle, I don’t know, but I don’t really think that she has got proper erotic feelings for Miles. The more the opera progresses the Governess gets more and more involved with the children, her vows to the guardian to take care of everything and NOT contact him and her own inexperience in life make all her decisions so desperate and at the end defiant towards Quint. She thinks that the battle is between her, the ghosts and the children and she pushes the children and Mrs. Grose so far in her own beliefs that they don’t know what to believe anymore. Concerning Miles and the Governess, as I said, I’m not sure it’s an erotic relationship. Of course, Miles is an adolescent and possibly testing his limits as a young man with her, both romantically and as the “man of the house”, and she is inexperienced, unmarried, and untried in life, so she might not fully understand the difference between love, affection, and obsession. Towards the end I feel that the Governess is obsessed with Miles and Quint and that she is going to be the one to “save” Miles from all evil e.g. Quint.

You have worked together with Iván Fischer several times, for example, in Figaro. What was it like working with him? What do you think about his way of directing?

Yes, I have worked with Iván many times, the first time being in the 2006 Così at Glyndebourne Festival! I love working and singing with him. He has a very deep understanding for the music, text and characters of an opera which is basically all you can ask of a conductor/director. His Nozze di Figaro was a great experience - it was light, funny, deep, and honest at the same time and the music-making was sublime. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he is going to “solve” the enigma of The Turn of the Screw and how he sees the Governess!