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 Reviews

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

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.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Pelléas et Mélisande</em>, Garsington Opera
18 Jun 2017

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Pelléas et Mélisande, Garsington Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Andrea Carroll (Mélisande)

Photo credit: Clive Barda

 

Piper’s intricate set fuses the antique with the modern and embraces Maeterlinck’s allegory with the meticulousness of a pre-Raphaelite painter. The designer captures the realism of Maeterlinck’s natural world and decadent decay as well as the symbolic blindness of his text. The result is a timeless world of fairy-tale and scenic enchantment, allied with a tangible emotional drama.

Questions are posed from the start, when Mélisande, a princess bride of Arthurian lore, trails the ash-grey, twenty-five-foot train of her white gown as she glides in rapture towards a stagnant pool. Like her tumbling knee-length hair, the train possesses an erotic energy which immediately lures the leather-clad crossbow-clutching hunter, Golaud, as he espies her crown fall into the dark waters. This Golaud, in search of a wild beast in the forest surrounding the castle of the kingdom of Allemonde, might have wandered in from a Brothers Grimm tale. Mélisande is fearful, almost hysterical - “Don't touch me! Or I'll throw myself in the water!” - but sensing the strength of her will, Golaud is disconcerted and drawn. “Where do you belong? Where were you born?” Golaud asks. In these opening moments, Boyd effectively introduces this sensuous figure into an ambiguous narrative, establishing the opera’s tragic entwinement of loneliness and introspection with female beauty and sexual longing.

Garsington Opea 2017 Pelléas et Mélisande Andrea Carroll (Mélisande) Paul Gay (Golaud).jpg Andrea Carroll (Mélisande) Paul Gay (Golaud). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Piper’s set is a huge arching ‘cave’ which enfolds and encloses multiple terrains: a crumbling Gothic castle with a central curving stairwell rising to a decaying balcony and medieval turret; the mossy bank beside the Blind Man’s Well; the beggars’ hovel whose three inhabitants so alarm Mélisande; and, dangling aloft, the treacherous ladders that lead to the vaults where Golaud will test Pelléas’ resolve in the face of the stench of death.

Paradoxically, alongside such gloomy subterranean terrains, the blue ‘ceiling’ of the cave also evokes a world outside - the night sky, the seashell grotto where Mélisande professes to have lost her wedding ring - and glimpses of light through the panels in the decrepit castle doors foreshadow the final moments of the opera, when Mélisande will demand that the doors be opened so that she can watch the magical sunset over the sea, a symbolic reflection of her own fate.

Malcolm Rippeth’s delicate lighting offers unusual spotlights which do not always fall where we might expect, highlighting the tarnished gold of fractured balustrades, the foul vapour mistily swirling above the pool. Contrasting with the dark corners spotted with shifting shadows there is some brightness with the stately entrances of the aging, infirm Arkel and his entourage, the latter confirming the shroud of courtly romance which envelops the work.

Garsington Opera 2017 Pelléas et Mélisande Jonathan McGovern and Andrea Carroll in title roles credit Clive Barda.jpg Jonathan McGovern and Andrea Carroll in title roles. Photo credit: Clive Barda.

This was a night of tremendous debuts at Garsington for the eponymous pair of hesitant lovers. Jonathan McGovern has a lovely brightness at the top of his baritone which captured all of Pelléas’ youthful ardency, aspiration and doubt. The striking qualities that I admired back in 2011, when reviewing a recital at the Wigmore Hall , have ripened wonderfully and McGovern has developed flexibility alongside vigour and greater variety of colour. This is not his first essay at the role and he has built fruitfully on the experience garnered with English Touring Opera in 2015. The baritone’s declaration of love, before he is killed by Golaud, had a power as penetrating as the uncontrollable ecstasy that Pelléas experiences beneath the turret from which Mélisande unfurls her hair. While the French text was not always perfectly enunciated, McGovern used the fragmented phrases to reveal - for example, in the scene where he waits of Mélisande to arrive so that they might flee - all of Pelléas’ contradictions and delusions. Given that the role falls too low for many tenors and often taxes baritones at the top this could become a signature role for McGovern.

American soprano Andrea Carroll only recently completed two years as a member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, but she has now been snapped up by the Vienna State Opera whose ensemble she has joined, and one can see why. Carroll has a vibrant, gleaming soprano which is particularly rich in the lower register. She articulated Debussy’s melodic fragments with utter naturalness, allying crystalline purity with vocal strength; moreover, she shaped the phrases superbly, guided by the rise and fall of Maeterlinck’s childlike French prose. Carroll’s vocal and physical beauty gave Mélisande a presence which was all-pervading. Joseph Kerman may have found Mélisande ‘exasperating … a mysterious, beautiful young creature who suffers quietly, asks nothing, and never acts’, but while there was no doubting this Melisande’s suffering - the Lady of Shalott’s lament, ‘I am half-sick of shadows’, never seemed more pertinent - Carroll conveyed not only her timidity but also her impulsiveness and her playful coquetry. Her mystery was duplicitous but there were also striking moments of truthfulness: as she sang her unaccompanied song, while combing her hair at the turret window, Mélisande seemed to step out of time, detaching herself from the dark drama which unfolded around her.

Garsington Opera 2017 Pelléas et Mélisande William Davies (Yniold), Paul Gay (Golaud) credit Clive Barda.jpg William Davies (Yniold), Paul Gay (Golaud). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Paul Gay was vocally less secure, finding the upper lying lines difficult to control at times, but he conveyed all of Golaud’s contradictory, self-torturing qualities: his sullen moroseness, his immature violence, his agonised love, his tenderness for his son Yniold. In the scene in which he tries, in desperation, to force the boy - who is on the cusp of understanding - prematurely into the deceit and betrayal of the adult world was intensely moving. Faced with the disintegration of his world, at his own hands, Golaud’s passion breaks him, and Gay’s delivery of the unstable phrases with their rapid accelerations and jerking rhythms was tortured and tragic.

William Davies’ Yniold was a more significant presence in the drama than is often the case, as he played innocently with his golden ball which, though it hung like a moon-lantern, offered the protagonists no illumination. Inevitably the treble’s words did not always come across, but the purity of tone was a breath of freshness and serenity within the prevailing murky confusion and growing darkness.

Scottish bass Brian Bannatyne-Scott captured the fading health and status of King Arkel while retaining his nobility, but did not quite convey the poignancy of the role. Susan Bickley was a perfectly dignified consort in regal purple, as his wife Geneviève, although her account of the happier past might have had more sense of nostalgic regret for what has been lost. Dingle Yandell as the Doctor and Joseph Padfield as the Shepherd completed the fine cast.

Garsinton Opera 2017 Pelléas et Mélisande Brian Bannatyne-Scott (Arkel), Susan Bickley (Geneviève), Jonathan McGovern (Pelléas) credit Clive Barda.jpg Brian Bannatyne-Scott (Arkel), Susan Bickley (Geneviève), Jonathan McGovern (Pelléas). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Garsington have just begun a five-year collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra and this was a fortuitous opera with which to open that partnership, for the players are fresh from their Aix-en-Provence performances of the work last summer. Under Jac van Steen’s baton the Philharmonic created exquisite soundscapes in the orchestral interludes and punctuated the vocal lines adroitly. Van Steen went for a less-is-more approach, and it worked well; he refrained from overt emotionalism and let the score speak, and there was a keen sense of unity and consistency between instrumental and vocal lines.

The details of Debussy’s music-painting were gorgeously crafted: the throbbing oboe that accompanies the dejected Golaud in the forest; the fateful chiming of the clarinet when Pelléas presses Mélisande to tell Golaud the truth about her lost ring, whose fall into the unreachable depths of the well is conjured by slithering harp glissandi; the tense, short crescendos for the lower strings, bassoon and timpani which depict the closing of the castle gates.

The pervasive secrecy of Debussy’s opera was preserved in Bond’s hands but he also suggested that the mysteries are more contradictory than we might at first imagine, the desires both more aimless and more complex. Boulez remarked that, ‘The real difficulty in interpreting Pelléas is to avoid both pointlessly heroic gestures and rhetorical attitudes on the one hand and timidity and “safe” understatement on the other.’ In this magical, troubling production, Boyd and Piper manage both to tell the (fairy-)tale and protect its intangibility.

Claire Seymour

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Pelléas - Jonathan McGovern, Mélisande - Andrea Carroll, Golaud - Paul Gay, Arkel - Brian Bannatyne-Scott, Geneviève - Susan Bickley, Yniold - William Davies, Doctor - Dingle Yandell, Shepherd - Joseph Padfield; Director - Michael Boyd, Conductor - Jac van Steen, Designer - Tom Piper, Lighting Designer - Malcolm Rippeth, Movement Director - Liz Ranken.

Garsington Opera, Wormsley; Friday 16th June 2017.

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):