If The Turn of the Screw is not Benjamin Britten's finest opera, then it is certainly his most concentrated; and, thanks to its Henry James inspiration, richest in its possible interpretations.
Carmel Carroll's production used the atmospheric potential of John Eaglen's minimal set to create a riveting psychological ghost story. A first-rate cast took care of the drama while gauze and lighting boosted the chill factor. If the opera's reality hinges on the central character of the Governess, then Emma Sloman was just the actor to suggest all the unspoken subtexts. Navigating Britten's often mercilessly jagged lines, she brought an emotional focus to her great Lost in my labyrinth monologue.
She was also impressive in ensemble work in this classic piece of chamber gothic.
Mary Newman-Pound, revisiting a role that she first played in the 1982 National Opera production, transformed the conventional character of housekeeper Mrs Grose into a warm and believable individual. Thomas White and Tizane McEvoy played the two children, Miles and Flora, with the clear-voiced White the perfect innocent caught up in a web of evil.
McEvoy, a soprano with theatrical flair, enjoyed capricious moments as Flora - if this were a movie, you would be thinking of a young Juliette Lewis. Her Lake Scene, with its crucial shifts of mood, proved one of the evening's highlights.
The villain, Quint, steals the show. We first met Cameron Barclay playing The Prologue, immaculately delivering what amounted to a mini-Canticle.
He used his full voice, its timbre darkening as the narrative developed, complemented by Rachel Day's sinister Miss Jessel in a dark bonding scene. Barclay also had the advantage of gender; every syllable made its impact, whereas the women's high register could conspire against words being heard.
Utmost praise must go to Rosemary Barnes, whose account of Britten's complex score, with just 10 fingers on one grand piano, was a feat the composer himself would have applauded.
*The Turn Of The Screw ends tonight at Newmarket's Opera Factory.By William Dart Email William