Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Elena Tsallagova as Mélisande and Elliot Madore as Pelléas [Photo courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]
15 Jul 2015

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.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Elena Tsallagova as Mélisande and Elliot Madore as Pelléas

Photos courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper

 

I could not for the life of me understand what the problem might have been. What I saw was a thoughtful, highly accomplished, post-Beckettian staging of, well, perhaps the most Beckettian of operas. I could certainly understand that some people might not have liked it, but not only did the terms in which it had apparently been criticised seem almost incredibly extravagant; I could not help but think that those who would not have liked it would in any case not much have liked Pelléas et Mélisande itself. (And besides, there is a world of difference between not ‘liking’ something and thinking it worthless — or at least there should be; it took me two or three years to ‘like’ Elektra, something for which I hold the Solti recording largely responsible, but it never occurred to me that the work was not a masterpiece.)

csm_9C2A4568_3e0e6b59fe.pngElena Tsallagova as Mélisande and Elliot Madore as Pelléas

Christiane Pohle’s provocative — in the best sense — new staging takes place, like the opera, in what we might call, with slight trepidation, lest we be consigned to Pseud’s Corner, a liminal zone, located at the intersection of the meaningful and meaningless. (For anyone interested in vaguely modern drama, which seems, sadly, to exclude vast swathes of opera audiences, the claim should not seem too outlandish.) What could be more instantly evocative of contemporary — to us, at least — anomie and ennui than a ‘stylish’, soulless hotel reception? Staff and guests continue their work, or whatever it is they do, sometimes stepping into ‘character’, sometimes remaining ‘background’. Just as they might in a royal household, one might add. Much is absurd, or so it seems to onlookers, yet it absorbs, even if it does not fulfil. Sometimes it seems to intersect more obviously with the drama, Debussy’s drama, than others, but even when it appears to be dissociated, it somehow focuses one’s attention upon what is ‘happening’, or as so often in this opera, what is not. Spectators on the one hand remain just that, yet on the other are drawn in. We cannot quite say how or why, just as the characters cannot, when indeed they can say anything at all. Questions are posed, occasionally answered, more often provoking another, seemingly unrelated question, or stillness and silence. I have not seen a staging that more closely corresponds to the singularity of Debussy’s drama, and yet which also retains its distance, seemingly — wisely — saying, if this is not for you, then Pelléas, the score and libretto, the memories you might have: they remain intact. This is, or could be understood to be, metatheatricality in a sense both old and intriguingly new; Pohl’s production allows one to take what one will, if only one is prepared to think or even just to experience. Sadly, some, perhaps influenced by what ‘opinion-formers’ had told them, elected to laugh (derisively, at least so it seemed) or even noisily to walk out. If they wished to leave, they might at least have had the decency to wait until the interval.

For some reason, or none, I had it in my head that Philippe Jordan was conducting. I mention that, since I initially assumed that Jordan’s Wagnerian experience might be the reason for the orchestra sounding more than usually Wagnerian. It transpired that Constantinos Carydis was in fact the conductor, yet the echt-Wagnerian sound of the Bavarian State Orchestra persisted. It was, moreover, not just the sound, but the motivic texture that so strongly recalled Parsifal, Tristan, and, to a lesser extent, even the later Ring operas. What often sounds closer to vague similarity here edged closer at times even to plagiarism. But, as Stravinsky noted, lesser artists borrow, whilst great artists steal. There are, of course, all manner of ways to play Pelléas, and doubtless this was shaped in good part by the orchestra’s heritage, but this was fruitful and, again, in the best sense provocative. It could not have been much further distant from Esa-Pekka Salonen’s recent, magnificent Philharmonia concert performance , but had its own, different validity. Carydis judged well the ebb and flow and at times brought the score closer to conventional operatic drama than one often hears. Hearing the orchestra given its head thrilled as it disconcerted, not least in combination with what one saw. There is of course more Wagner in Debussy than Debussy allowed, just as there is more Wagner in Beckett than Beckett allowed. Escape is not an option — or rather it is doomed to fail, if sometimes to fail better.

csm_12_97deee723e.pngA scene from Pelléas et Mélisande

Vocal performances were generally excellent, as were the singers’ responses to Pohl’s often difficult demands. (At least I assume they were hers: this did not seem improvised.) Elliot Madore and Elena Tsallagova offered a truly disconcerting — that word again — pair of lovers, their childishness (weird smiles) married to, indeed productive of, erotic frissons, almost as much as their command of the vocal lines. Madore’s relatively dark tone contrasted intriguingly with Tsallagova’s bright, almost doll-like delivery; both performances contributed to, rather than merely reflecting, our understanding. Markus Eiche’s Golaud seemed initially a little too gruff, and his French was not always quite what it might have been, but his portrayal grew in stature, truly moving by the end. Perhaps that had always been the plan; it certainly made me think. Alastair Miles’s Arkel properly bewildered. (Is that not what more or less everything in this opera should?) Was he victim or in some sense initiator? He refused the either/or, and delivered his text with an understanding that seemed at times almost to pass all understanding. Okka von der Damerau’s Geneviève commanded the stage in a similar yet different way — again, as befits the character. Her vocal shading was not the least of the performance’s pleasures, even if we did not hear so much from her as we might have wished. Young Hanno Eilers was quite the best boy Yniold I have heard; one could often have taken dictation from him, verbally or musically. Still more to the point, his fear made perhaps the most powerful dramatic impression of all. A pointless question, arguably like any relating to this ‘pointless’ opera, but it was difficult not to ask: what does Fate hold in store for him?

Was I perhaps more receptive than I might have been, on account of prior reception? I do not, cannot know; perhaps I was, but that, like so many questions in this opera, is really one for a psychoanalyst. But I do not think I was entirely guilty of finding things that were not there; or, if I was, I was guilty in the productive spirit in which work, production, and performances were also guilty. For this, in the well worn cliché, was more than the sum of its parts, ‘intentionally’ or otherwise, so long as one agreed to be one of those parts. I have not stopped thinking about what I saw and heard; sadly, many seem never to have started.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Arkel: Alastair Miles; Geneviève: Okka von der Damerau; Pelléas: Elliot Madore; Golaud — Markus Eiche; Mélisande: Elena Tsallagova; Yniold: Hanno Eilers; Doctor: Peter Lobert; Shepherd: Evgeny Kachurovsky. Director: Christiane Pohle; Set designs: Maria-Alice Bahra; Costumes: Sara Kittelmann; Assistant Director: Malte Ubenauf (assistant director); Lighting: Benedikt Zehm. Bavarian State Opera Chorus (chorus master: Sören Eckhoff)/Bavarian State Orchestra/Constantinos Carydis (conductor). Prinzregententheater, Munich, Tuesday 7 July 2015.

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):