Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Tristan und Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper

David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s seminal music drama runs aground on the Cornish coast.

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

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):