Nashville Opera presents a haunting 1954 opera based on an 1898 horror novella to kick off 2020

creepy doll head looking through silhouette of trees

Britten’s seductive, luminous score builds delicious tension to create one of opera’s greatest ghost stories Jan. 24-26

'Turn of the Screw' was Benjamin Britten's last chamber opera composition.

‘Turn of the Screw,’ Benjamin Britten’s last composed chamber opera.

Is there something sinister afoot? Could it be the supernatural? Or is it simply the product of her overactive imagination?

Benjamin Britten’s psychological thriller The Turn of the Screw — which Nashville Opera presents at Noah Liff Opera Center Jan. 24-26 — must have been pretty shocking when it first came out in 1950s Britain.

Based on Henry James’ ambiguous 19th-century horror novella, this chilling opera is a tale of ghosts and possession with ambiguous characters and unanswerable questions.

Many have tried to determine the exact nature of the evil hinted at in the story; others argue that the brilliance of the narrative results from its ability to create an intimate sense of confusion and suspense.

Not unlike classics like Margaret Oliphant’s The Open Door, Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, this gothic horror story makes the audience consider what is real, what is madness and whether the distinction really matters.

It’s sinister. It’s ominous. It’s a libretto that fully embraces the supernatural and suspenseful —  and it starts like this.

turn of the screw

First page of the 12-part serialisation of ‘The Turn of the Screw’ in Collier’s Weekly. (January 27 – April 16, 1898)

A young governess has been hired by a mysterious guardian to take care of two children who are living far away in a remote country estate. He has three rules for her:

  1. Don’t write to him.
  2. Don’t ask about the history of the house.
  3. Don’t abandon the children.

Screw takes place entirely at Bly — a large, imposing country mansion and estate in Essex, England. It’s a period piece set around the 1840s with an atmospheric setting that mirrors the narrative.

Once the Governess arrives, she slowly begins to feel that things may not be what they appear. Is there something sinister afoot? Alone and anxious, she begins to feel that the grounds might be haunted and that the malevolent spirits are targeting the children in her charge.

With direction by John Hoomes, the Nashville Opera production will feature three Mary Ragland Emerging Artists — Helen Zhibing Huang as Flora, Kaylee Nichols as Mrs. Grose and Michael Anderson as Peter Quint (and Narrator).

Conducted by Dean Williamson and featuring the Nashville Opera Orchestra, Lara Secord-Haid stars as the Governess, Micaëla Aldridge as Miss Jessel and Caleb Killingsworth as Miles.

Exterior of glass building in Fall

Noah Liff Opera Center in the Sylvan Heights section of West Nashville.

Described as one of the most dramatically appealing English operas, this opera in two acts has a prologue and sixteen scenes, each preceded by a variation on the twelve-note Screw theme.

The music mixes tonality and dissonance. The line “The ceremony of innocence is drowned” sung by Quint and Miss Jessel serves as the opera’s central theme — taken from the poem The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats.

Sung in English with projected English titles, there will be three performances of Nashville Opera’s The Turn of the Screw on Jan. 24 and 25 at 8 p.m., and Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. at the Noah Liff Opera Center.

The show’s run time is two hours and five minutes long with a 20-minute intermission.

For ticket information, call the TPAC Box Office at 615-782-4040 or visit

Season tickets on sale now!

Reach Michael Aldrich on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @michaelwaldrich.

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