La Monnaie / De Munt LA MONNAIE / DE MUNT

The Turn of The Screw

Musical synopsis with Antonio Méndez

Klaus Bertisch, Antonio Méndez
Reading time
5 min.

Read the story of Britten’s opera, summarised scene by scene by dramaturge Klaus Bertisch, and listen to some of the work’s musical highlights, selected and illuminated by conductor Antonio Méndez.

Act One


The Prologue tells a strange story, written in faded ink: a governess’ first position is at a country house called Bly, looking after two children Miles and Flora, who are reaching puberty. However, there is one stipulation: the governess is not to bother their guardian either verbally or in writing about any matters relating to the children. The Governess accepts the challenge.

Scene one – The Journey

The Governess sets off apprehensively. How will the children receive her? She has left behind everything she knows; she has no one to ask for advice and will have to make all her own decisions.

Scene two – The Welcome

Miles and Flora excitedly await the arrival of the Governess and ask endless questions about her of the housekeeper, Mrs Grose. When the Governess eventually arrives, the children greet her with a practised bow and reverence. The talkative Mrs Grose is keen to tell the Governess about the children, while the two children cannot wait to show the newcomer round her new work environment.

Scene three – The Letter

An official letter arrives saying that Miles has been expelled from school. The Governess and the housekeeper cannot imagine that Miles has misbehaved. While the children sing a seemingly innocent song, the Governess decides not to react to the letter.

Scene four – The Tower

All alone, the Governess enjoys the beauty of the surroundings, until she suddenly spots a stranger on one of the towers. She is afraid because she can’t imagine who he could be.

Scene five – The Window

Again the children entertain themselves with a song, though it sounds more aggressive than the last. The Governess has seen the stranger for the second time. According to Mrs Grose, it can only be Peter Quint, the former manservant who died. She says he not only took liberties with the children, but also with the Governess’ predecessor, Miss Jessel. But Miss Jessel is dead too.
It would seem that the unpleasant events of the past are not entirely over and the Governess becomes increasingly aware that she is going to have to keep a very careful watch over the children.

Scene six – The Lesson

In the classroom Miles shows how many Latin phrases he knows, while his sister prefers to study history. He surprises the Governess with a mystifying song.

Scene seven – The Lake

Flora recites the names of the seas while playing with her doll at the lakeside. The Dead Sea fills her with fear. Suddenly the Governess asks Flora to help her look for her brother. Miss Jessel appeared to her and she fears that both children will be lost if they come under the influence of the former employees.

Scene eight – The Night

Peter Quint seems to want to keep a hold on Miles, while Miss Jessel directs her hidden powers at Flora. With mysterious myths and dream-like events they try to exercise power over the children. The Governess is desperate to free them from the clutches of the dead but she needs Mrs Grose’s help.

Act Two

Scene one – Colloquy and soliloquy

Back in their former violent relationship, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel argue about their influence over the two children. However, one thing is certain: the age of innocence is over. In her solitude, the Governess realizes this too.

Scene two – The Bells

The children sing a hymn in honour of the dead, but there seems to be more to their song than meets the eye. While Mrs Grose praises the beauty of the day, the Governess no longer believes in the children’s innocence. She is convinced that the dead employees have them in their power. Mrs Grose believes that only a letter to their guardian can help, but the agreement was to leave him in peace. While Miles asks if he can spend time with his peers again, the Governess considers fleeing the place she now finds so terrible.

Scene three – Miss Jessel

When the Governess comes into the classroom, she finds Miss Jessel sitting in her seat. She is not prepared to be pushed out and calls her predecessor to order. In these circumstances she cannot leave Bly. A letter to the guardian does seem to be the only way out.

Scene four – The Bedroom

Miles, who hasn’t gone to bed yet, sings his sad song again. The life they are all leading gives him cause for concern. The Governess takes him into her confidence about the letter she has written to the guardian, not least because she still doesn’t know why he was expelled from school. While she offers Miles her help, Peter Quint’s influence over him seems to be increasing.

Scene five – Quint

Miles has intercepted the letter - probably at Quint’s behest.

Scene six – The Piano

Miles impresses the Governess and Mrs Grose with his masterly piano playing. Flora seizes the opportunity to slip away. As Miles is already in Quint’s power, the Governess decides it is better to leave him in peace and concentrate on looking for Flora.

Scene seven – Flora

The two women find Flora. For the Governess there is no doubt whatsoever that she followed Miss Jessel, while Mrs Grose sees no trace of Miss Jessel. An argument with the Governess ensues. Flora takes advantage of the quarrel to reproach the Governess and escape her care. The Governess is forced to recognize that she has failed.

Scene eight – Miles

Mrs Grose feels duty-bound to leave with Flora. The guardian, however, is not aware of events at Bly, because Miles has intercepted the letter. The Governess still believes she must protect Miles from the ghostly goings-on and save him. While Quint seems to be urging Miles to remain silent, the Governess insists that he tells her the truth. Naming Quint could mean his liberation. She achieves her objective, but Miles dies in her arms after uttering Quint’s name.

Translation: Alison Mouthaan, Patrick Lennon