Budapest Festival Opera: Turn of the Screw

A Part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series

For cast lists and playlists, please visit the Opera Series Overview.

This season, the WFMT Opera Series welcomes the Budapest Festival Opera, who present a spellbinding production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The Opera is performed under the baton of Iván Fischer in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, in a joint event with Müpa Budapest, the Iván Fischer Opera Company and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. With a complex and compelling form, Britten’s work is brought to life by an excellent cast that includes Andrew Staples as Peter Quint, Allison Cook as Miss Jessel, Miah Persson as the Governess, and more.

Opera productions have been the most prominent performances of the Festival Orchestra for years. This time, Iván Fischer has chosen a truly special piece: he directs and conducts Britten’s chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw. The story of two orphans and their Governess is made mysterious by the ghosts of a former Governess and a former Manservant. Even creepier is the possibility that these ghosts may only exist in the imagination of the current Governess. The opera with a tragic ending, which, due to the unreliability of its narrator, never offers a clue to those in search of the truth, is a real showpiece musically and for its director as well. With the world-famous soloists returning to the BFO, this production guarantees an experience that will remain with its audience for a long while.

This is a joint event of the Müpa Budapest, the Iván Fischer Opera Company and the Budapest Festival Orchestra.




A young lady is hired to act as Governess to two children at an isolated country house called “Bly.” The uncle of the children, their only living relative, has hired her, as he has no interest in taking care of the children. His one condition is that she be responsible for everything. She should not contact him.

The Governess travels to Bly, full of self-doubt. She is welcomed by the two children, Miles and Flora, and the Housekeeper Mrs. Grose. After being shown around the house, a letter arrives from Miles’s school, stating that he has been expelled. Neither the Governess nor Mrs. Grose believe Miles capable of wrongdoing, and as the children sing a nursery rhyme outside, the Governess resolves to ignore the letter and take no further action. Feeling more and more comfortable in her new role, she desires to see her employer and show him how well she is coping. At this moment, a male figure is seen on the tower. Alarmed that a stranger has appeared, the Governess retreats.

The children are at play, singing another nursery rhyme. Glancing through a window, the Governess again sees the strange man. She relates his description to Mrs. Grose, who realizes the description matches the former valet of the house, Peter Quint. In a heartfelt narrative, Mrs. Grose reveals that she feared Quint, that he was ‘free with everyone’, especially Miles and the former Governess Ms. Jessel. Concluding her story, Mrs. Grose reveals that both Quint and Ms. Jessel are now dead. The Governess reacts decisively: she is sure the strange man is Quint, and that he has come for Miles. She is determined to protect the children, and repeats her allegiance to their uncle. Mrs. Grose understands nothing, but vows to support her.

Miles is busy learning Latin. As the Governess urges Miles to continue his studies, he sings a strange song that is at the heart of the opera. Seemingly a mnemonic on the possible meanings of the word ‘Malo’, it seems to have a darker resonance. Later, Flora sings a lullaby to her doll by the lake. As the lullaby ends, the figure of Ms. Jessel emerges from the lake, seen by the Governess. She becomes convinced that both children are possessed by ghosts.

Night descends. Seeking his attention and loyalty, Quint sings to Miles in richly captivating language. Ms. Jessel does the same with Flora. Realizing the children are out of bed, the Governess and Mrs. Grose arrive on the scene. The ghosts withdraw, and Miles proclaims to the Governess that he is bad.


Ms. Jessel recriminates Quint for his past wrongs against her. They join together in shared words, proclaiming ‘the ceremony of innocence is drowned.’ Immediately after, we witness the torment within the Governess’s mind. Increasingly, she feels the presence of evil at Bly.

The Governess, Mrs. Grose, Miles and Flora are at church, the children singing a psalm. Hearing evil within their singing, the Governess tries to convince Mrs. Grose of the presence of Quint and Jessel. Not understanding this, Mrs. Grose advises her to write to the uncle of the children, and takes Flora into church. Miles is left alone with the Governess, and asks when he is going back to school. Later, upon entering the schoolroom at Bly, the Governess finds Ms. Jessel sitting at her desk. After chasing her away, she realizes she has no alternative but to write to her employer, requesting to see him immediately.

Miles is in his bedroom, singing the ‘Malo’ song. The Governess interrupts, informing him that she has written to his uncle. The voice of Quint is heard, urging Miles to steal the Governess’s letter, which he does.

In the next scene, Miles is practicing the piano whilst the others listen. As his playing becomes more dramatic, the Governess sees that Flora has gone. As she leaves with Mrs. Grose in search of the girl, Miles remains at the piano, playing triumphantly. Upon finding Flora by the lake, the Governess observes Ms. Jessel on the other side of the lake, and points her out to Mrs. Grose and Flora. Flora erupts, repeating that she can see nobody and that she hates the Governess. Mrs. Grose takes Flora away, leaving the Governess on her own.

Summary and synopsis courtesy of Budapest Festival Orchestra, Müpa Budapest, the Iván Fischer Opera Company, and Iván Fischer.


About the Host:
Lisa Flynn has been a program host and producer for WFMT since 1991. She presents The New Releases and has hosted many programs for the WFMT Radio Network, including War Letters (which won the 2002 Peter Lisagor Award) and a series of live broadcasts from Salzburg to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006. As WFMT’s midday weekday announcer, Lisa hosts live studio performances and interviews guest artists including Renée Fleming, John Adams, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, John Eliot Gardiner, and many others. Before coming to Chicago, Lisa presented classical music at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, and at WMFE and WUCF in Orlando, Florida. She holds a music degree from the University of Central Florida.


This program is a part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series, a series designed to complement the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts to fill out the year with great Opera content. The series begins in June and lasts until December.


Category: Operas
Duration: 2-hour / Varies by Opera
Frequency: Flexible
Availability: 08/05/2023 - 08/05/2023

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