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

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Magdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as  Pelléas [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
31 Dec 2010

Pelléas et Mélisande, New York

Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy’s impressionist drama closely based on Maeterlinck’s eerie, symbolist play, is not a terribly vocal opera; it calls more for the subtlety of art song style than the belting of great divas and divos.

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Mélisande: Magdalena Koženà; Geneviève: Felicity Palmer; Pelléas: Stéphane Degout; Golaud: Gerald Finley; Yniold: Neel Ram Nagarajan; Arkel: Willard White. Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Simon Rattle. Performance of December 20.

Above: Magdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as Pelléas

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

Therefore it makes me a bit uneasy to report that the latest Met revival features the best all-around cast the company has fielded (theatered?) all season, nearly flawless from top to bottom, no one vocally out of her or his league, everyone suited to the scale of the work and to singing it at the Met—at least when Simon Rattle is in the pit, keeping the evening in flawless balance.

PELLEAS_Finley_Kozena_White_7077c.pngMagdalena Kožená as Mélisande, Gerald Finley as Golaud and Willard White as Arkel

Jonathan Miller’s production removes Maeterlinck’s tragedy from the mystical, pre-Raphaelite mists in which the playwright set it to a definite location: an English country house in the Merchant-Ivory style. Miller’s feeling seems to be that we have forgotten the once-upon-a kingdoms of fairy tale, that we nowadays have similar half-sensual half- memories related to the forgotten refinements and restraints of the turn of the century world. This does not always fail of its proper effect, though killing with broadswords seems a little strange. I do not quite understand why Mélisande, first discovered in a Jungian wood far from the rest of the action, weeping into a forest pool, is already within the walls of the house. Surely her tragedy, in part, is that she begins and remains an outsider? For Miller, evidently, “Allemond,” the name of Arkel’s kingdom, is truly all-the-world, and just as there is no place to flee, there is no outside for Mélisande to have come from.

The singers, an extraordinary ensemble, perform with sensitivity and grace. Every sound they make is musically grateful and lulls one into the texture of Debussy’s tone poem. Stéphane Degout’s ardent Pelléas is nicely contrasted with Gerald Finley’s agonized and menacing Golaud. Willard White and Felicity Palmer give moving performances as the helpless elders Arkel and Geneviève. Neel Ram Narajan’s boy soprano reaches all the notes with perfect support and has no trouble filling the house. He is often called upon to “witness” the actions of the incomprehensible adults, and he acts bravely. (In one clever Miller touch, Yniold’s scene with the Shepherd becomes a nightmare, sing in bed.)

PELLEAS_Kozena_and_Degout_0804a.pngMagdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as Pelléas

The one member of the cast who did not seem quite acclimatized with the rest, perhaps appropriately, was Lady Rattle, Magdalena Koženà, who sang Mélisande, that quintessential outsider. It was easy to put her accented French down to the character’s foreignness; this did not bother me at all. More awkward was her air of conscious coquetry, of flirting with Pélleas, of manipulating those about her. This is not appropriate to Mélisande whose innocence is precisely the keynote of her character. Koženà stares, as required, at the actions of others, but her stare does not seem to imply wonder or puzzle; simply a languid lack of interest. Innocence is a commodity that Maeterlinck’s admirers longed for, missing their pre-Freudian, pre-Darwinian youth perhaps; if we can no longer believe in it, we still must have a Mélisande who incarnates it to perform the opera properly.

The hero of the evening, shining despite the brilliance of so extraordinary a group of singers, was conductor Sir Simon Rattle in his Met debut. His Pelléas et Mélisande was of so measured a pace that the moments of rising tension, imminent violence, came upon us with an almost shocking suddenness and, as the stage action remained calm, tied us more closely to the internal states that the score tends to paint in any case. His sureness and lightness of touch permitted the singers to project conversationally without any strain or push. He brought us to our feet.

John Yohalem

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):