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 Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

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.

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.’

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.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Claude Debussy: Pélleas et Mélisande
24 Jul 2006

DEBUSSY: Pélleas et Mélisande

Whatever its flaws - and it has them - this Zurich Opera production of Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande boasts qualities that carry it very far from the standard view of those opera goers who considers the work dry, dull, and depressingly long.

Claude Debussy: Pélleas et Mélisande

Rodney Gilfry, Isabel Rey, Michael Volle, László Polgár, Cornelia Kallisch, Zusatzchor Opernhaus Zürich, Orchester der Oper Zürich, Franz Welser-Möst

TDK DVWW-OPPEM [DVD]

$39.98  Click to buy

Of course the opera has its fans and has long established itself in the repertory. However, it is very far from a crowd-pleaser, and the typical company that programs it is wont to pack the rest of the season with favorites such as Aida, Boheme, and Carmen. Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf, set designer Rolf Glittenberg, and conductor Franz Welser-Most have collaborated to produce a taut, ominous, and even propulsive account that, despite the referenced off-putting moments, strips the "airy" from the "fairy-tale" aspects of Maeterlinck's story and allows the characters to operate both on a symbolic level and as flesh and blood humans. That success trumps the niggling complaints, no matter how unavoidable they may be.

The staging emphasizes chillness - white as in ever-present snow, gray as in the metallic wall at the rear of the uni-set, and frosty gray-blues as in the costumes of the adult male characters. Mélisande, Yniold and Genevieve get deeper blues. Paradoxically, this cold environment heightens the seething passions below the characters' placid outward appearances.

The most controversial element of the production, the use of mannequins designed to resemble closely the singers for each role, is a risky move that pays off in many scenes - but also provides a few questionable moments. These doubles serve to reinforce the characters' misperceptions and obliviousness of others, and also toward themselves. Often characters sing to the double while the person actually being addressed is preoccupied elsewhere. For the most part, this does heighten the pathos of the situations. But oh, how one wishes Golaud did not take the head of the Yniold doll and place it on the roof of a car to "spy" on Pelléas and Mélisande. Or that Golaud did not walk off stage at one point and drag on the inanimate double of Pelléas. And touching on other directorial inspirations, did Mélisande really have to get her caught in the car door of the sedan that serves as her tower? Instead of panic as Golaud approaches, all one can think is "ouch!"

Taken as a whole, however, the conceit must be credited as something essential to the brooding power and forward momentum of this production. When Pelléas and Mélisande finally let down their defenses and express their love to each other, no doubles are visible. They have stripped away the facade that life with Golaud had forced upon them, and the tenderness they show each other makes the conclusion all the more shattering. At the end, it is the "doll" Mélisande that Golaud grieves over - the "real" Mélisande gambols away, playing with a golden ball that Yniold had lost earlier.

Welser-Most's conducting may be controversial for some adherents of a mistier, softer reading of the score. Here the rhythms are crisp, even emphatic at times, and a forward pulse like an impassioned heartbeat makes itself felt. The fine Zurich orchestra plays with real distinction. This urgent musical support matches the staging's impetus brilliantly.

If no member of the cast delivers a vocal performance of the highest standard, each of them sings and acts with dedication and a commitment to the director's vision, without which the staging would not hold together. Isabel Rey may not have the slim physique or ethereal appeal of some Mélisande's, but she is fully within the character, and her well-supported delivery makes her character less of an enigma or male fantasy. In fine voice, Rod Gilfry has all the notes and the physical appeal of a believable Pelléas, and he earns the title billing: this is his tragedy as well. The central character, however, is Golaud. Michael Volle never gets beyond the character's dark obsessiveness, and without at least some empathy for this sad man, Golaud becomes almost a movie character villain. Perhaps a little more softness and color in the voice would have helped.

Often confined to a wheelchair, László Polgár's Arkel manages to be both helpless to stop the unfolding tragedy and a warm presence in this frigid world. Eva Liebau doesn't have to struggle to appear boyish as Yniold, since the abstract nature of the production doesn't call for realism. Thus we can relish the ease and beauty of her voice, and firmer intonation than a child singer can usually provide.

As always with any non-traditional production, viewers who already know they have a preference for a staging which strictly adheres to the original libretto's dictates would not find much to enjoy here. For all others, and especially those who have found Debussy's masterpiece slow-going in the past, this Zurich production, despite the above-mentioned caveats, may be one that will open up the dark magic of Pelléas and Mélisande to them.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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):