Owen Wingrave (Act 2)
Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)
With live theatre performances severely restricted by Covid-19, Grange Park Opera, Surrey has filmed Owen Wingrave, an opera created by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) specifically for TV.
Henry James’ ghost story Owen Wingrave tells an army family – the Wingraves – who have locked away a hideous secret in their grand house, Paramore. Owen is the heir; all hell breaks loose when he announces that the army isn’t for him.
Filmed over five September days, director Stephen Medcalf explains: “A minimal crew maintained distancing in intimate domestic interiors and COVID restrictions required the cast to costume themselves. I’ve given full rein to the satirical, often blackly comic aspects of the opera. Alongside that there are three serious themes: the pressure from society to conform; the courage it takes to stand up for who we really are; the destructive love of family.”
CEO Wasfi Kani says: “The opera requires a dozen interiors, which are well-nigh impossible to achieve on a theatre stage. However, filmed on location, we can have the Wingraves living in a real house, playing out their poisonous squabbles.”
In the words of Henry James: “A piece of ingenuity pure and simple, of cold artistic calculation, an amusette to catch those not easily caught.”
The opera is presented with the kind collaboration of Faber Music and The Britten Estate.
Britten did not own a TV when the work was broadcast on BBC2 on 16 May 1971. However, Decca presented him with a set two years later.
The work is an expression of Britten’s own pacifism, and was partly a response to the Vietnam War.
The Times ★★★★
“Wisely, Medcalf hasn’t attempted to ramp up the horror, although misty backdrops and artfully angular shots do occasionally recall those classic BBC adaptations of MR James (the black and white palette helps). Pragmatically, the setting is more or less present day, with the suggestion that young Wingrave is signing up for a pointless bloodbath in Afghanistan. The score is reduced to piano played by Chris Hopkins, and doom-laden strokes of percussion — the drums of war — from Craig Apps.”
OWEN WINGRAVE ∙ ROSS RAMGOBIN
MISS WINGRAVE, his aunt ∙ SUSAN BULLOCK
SIR PHILIP WINGRAVE, his grandfather ∙ RICHARD BERKELEY STEELE
Mr COYLE ∙ WILLIAM DAZELEY
MRS. COYLE ∙ JANIS KELLY
LECHMERE ∙ JAMES WAY
MRS. JULIAN ∙ MADELEINE PIERARD
KATE, her daughter ∙ KITTY WHATELY
NARRATOR ∙ RICHARD BERKELEY STEELE
DIRECTOR ∙ STEPHEN MEDCALF
CONDUCTOR ∙ JAMES HENSHAW
VIDEO PRODUCTION ∙ FINTAN O’CONNOR
SOUND ∙ TOM MARSHALL
PIANO ∙ CHRIS HOPKINS
PERCUSSION ∙ CRAIG APPS