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3 - Spectral Opera: Britten?s The Turn of the Screw, 1954

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 August 2018

Harriet Boyd-Bennett
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

Since the premiere of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw in Venice in 1954, the opera has been subject to contestation: whether the opera submits to gothic ‘thrills’ or is elevated by recourse to serial technique; whether the ghosts that haunt the children are real or imaginary. British and American commentators have repeatedly paid attention to the opera’s intellectual rather than its visceral appeal: they have sought to disavow its more lowbrow qualities, claiming them in defence of its modernism. Rather than stressing The Turn of the Screw’s modernist credentials, however, Italian critics were openly appalled and affronted – not just by the sexual suggestiveness, but particularly by its gothic elements. These critics could not, in other words, move beyond a visceral response. They ascribed the conflation of gothic qualities with modernism as a peculiarly English trait, one that jarred with their own cultural climate. And yet such a reaction involved, somewhat ironically, taking the gothic elements seriously. They labelled the opera a ‘giallo’ – a ‘thriller’, an Italian counterpart to the idea of the gothic. This cultural mistranslation thus gives rise to a surprising moment when beleaguered Italian operatic culture was being explicitly defined in relation to an English operatic modernism.
Type
Chapter
Information
Opera in Postwar Venice
Cultural Politics and the Avant-Garde
, pp. 91 - 118
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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