Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Late Schumann in context - Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande (Photo: Michael Cooper)
27 May 2008

Masterpiece Masterfully Rendered in Toronto

I can still remember my first ever “Pelleas et Melisande” in my first ever outing at San Francisco Opera during my first ever visit to that beautiful town.

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Golaud, King Arkel’s grandson (Pavlo Hunka), Mélisande (Isabel Bayrakdarian), Geneviève, mother of Pelléas and Golaud (Barbara Dever), Arkel, King of Allemonde (Richard Wiegold), Pelléas, King Arkel’s grandson (Russell Braun), Yniold, Golaud’s son by his first marriage (Erin Fisher), The Doctor (Alain Coulombe). Conductor: Jan Latham-Koenig. Director: Nicholas Muni. Canadian Opera Company.

Above: Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande
All photos by Michael Cooper courtesy of Canadian Opera Company

 

Having run into a local friend unexpectedly at intermission, and having related the above information, he hurriedly said, “ohhhhhhh, you should come back sometime for a real opera.”

Judging from intermission comments recently in Toronto, and some empty seats for part two, the piece apparently remains caviar for the gourmand, rather than bread and butter for the masses. I am hard pressed to quite understand why, especially when the work is treated to such a world class performance as mounted here by Canadian Opera Company.

Dany Lyne’s gorgeous design — ethereal, timeless and haunting — provided the perfect backdrop and playing environment for Debussy’s masterpiece. While the basic construction featured a girdered bridge which elevated actors about ten feet off the stage floor, visual variety was introduced through the addition of well-chosen set pieces (throne, bed, rickshaw, etc.), and the revelation of fold out features such as a hidden stairway and door leading from above to the “depths” of the debris-strewn floor in which “Pelleas” dwelt during much of the first act.

The stage left third of the structure was able to be raised and lowered, creating “Melisande’s” bedroom tower, a beautiful evocation of a depth to the well, and a final descent to the grave for our heroine’s remains, even while her spirit (in the form of a diaphanous bed canopy) ascended to the heavens.

Scrims, opaque spun fiberglass drops, and a cyclorama fronted by expressive filigreed tree branches, were inventively lit by Thomas C. Hase with his perfectly judged special effects and a highly creative design. He was assisted by John Prautschy. A glowing blue moon, passing torchlight, silhouette imagery, the up-lit fountain, and the down lit bed and stairs were among the superbly calculated effects. A passionate orb of a sun called to mind Stephen Crane’s “the red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.”

Ms. Lyne’s vibrant Asian-influenced costumes could also hardly have been bettered, and the choice to put “Melisande” in vivid reds proved to be inspired, completely playing against the usual wispy “type” for this mysterious character. Indeed, our heroine’s first appearance behind a scrim, in a rich Chinese red dress with an impossibly long train, and draped in an over-sized off-white veil was a triumph of character statement, making her at once irresistibly alluring and impossibly indefinite. The minute attention to each and every technical detail created true theatrical magic.

pelleas07.png(l – r) Alain Coulombe as the Doctor, Barbara Dever as Geneviève (behind Golaud), Pavlo Hunka as Golaud, Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande and Richard Wiegold as Arkel

Such a top notch design would go for nothing, of course, without a cast up to the musical challenges, and COC came up with winners all around. At any given period there is always a dream team for the title roles, and on the basis of this visit, I would have to say the mantle has been passed to stars Russell Braun and Isabel Bayrakdarian, Canadians both. Although Mr. Braun has more experience with his well-known “Pelleas” (including a memorable Robert Wilson version in Salzburg with Dawn Upshaw), there is nothing in these fearsomely demanding roles that eludes either one of these superb interpreters.

Ms. Bayrakdarian offered a most compelling take on “Melisande” with a bit more starch than some. She displayed a wonderful technique, an even production, fine projection with a pleasing point to the tone, and thorough attention to each quicksilver shift of mood and subtext. Mr. Braun now pretty much owns his role, and he negotiates “Pelleas’“ highest reaches with seasoned perfection, singing with a robust and responsive baritone that has mastered every nuance of his tortured attraction to his brother’s wife.

Pavlo Hunka’s compelling “Golaud” was every inch the powerful linchpin central to the drama, as it needs to be. He managed more variety than other interpreters that I have seen, and his obsession with finding confirmation of the betraying physical act was well-balanced between heartsick introspection and macho bluster.

pelleas09.pngRussell Braun as Pelléas and Isabel Bayrakdarian as Mélisande

Richard Wiegold used his dark imposing bass to etch an unusually detailed portrait of “Arkel,” and he was well rewarded at curtain call for his efforts. Barbara Dever offered dramatic power and a steady outpouring of her rich mezzo for a fine assumption of “Genevieve.” The small role of the “Physician” was fleshed out with wonderful stage business, and the few rolling phrases required were well intoned by Alain Coulombe.” Only Erin Fisher’s attractive if light-voiced “Yniold” seemed one size too small to ride the occasional dense orchestrations.

Director Nicholas Muni made masterful use of every playing space and level available to him; he created memorable, chills-inducing stage pictures and groupings through well-motivated blocking; and he could give a masters class on effective character development and interaction. My God, here is a director who not only understands the work, but serves it! Let’s hope his creative philosophy starts an epidemic in the opera world. For this is decidedly a brilliant mounting of Debussy’s “Pelleas,” rather than Muni’s. Would that all directors “got” that difference.

The superb playing from the pit was diligently led by Jan Latham-Koenig. The acoustic of the house seemed very grateful to this impressionist work, even if I did think that it favored the orchestra slightly more than the singers. This richly detailed reading not only had the wispy, blurry succession of solo lines flawlessly interwoven, but the blocks of woodwinds, strings, and horns were individually and collectively well-knit into a clean ensemble. The passionate outbursts were all the more effective for the placid churnings that came before, and the inner life and forward thrust of the rhythmic pulse was never lost.

The beautiful “new” house in the Four Seasons Center would be an architectural pride of any world city, and it is perfectly complemented on stage by a stunning “Pelleas et Melisande” that makes the best possible case for this elusive work. Will this opus ever become a bread-and-butter opera? Perhaps not.

But for those of us who occasionally relish the highest quality caviar on our musical menu, this totally winning production was a very rich feast.

James Sohre © 2008

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):