Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Delicately produced Pelléas and Mélisande

Pelléas et Mélisande, Opéra Comique in Paris, June 14 2010

Conductor  Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Directior  Stéphane Braunschweig

Pelléas Phillip Addis
Mélisande  Karen Vourc'h
Golaud  Marc Barrard
Arkel  Markus Hollop
Geneviève  Nathalie Stutzmann
Yniold  Dima Bawab
Un médecin  Luc Bertin-Hugault

Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique

The other day I anticipated that this opera suits very well the creative spirit of Stéphane Braunschweig. Now after I saw the premiere, I can "proudly" say I was right ;)

Karen Vourc'h (Mélisande) and Phillip Addis (Pelléas)

It is a show in which everything is delicately well composed. There is nothing entirely explicit. It respects the symbolism it represents, it's sufficiently illustrative but it does let enough space for your imagination to surf on the edge of what's happening on the stage while immersed in subtle music coming from the pit.

The auditorium of Opéra Comique in Paris is not too big. Its size is in fact perfect for this opera: the overall intimacy is guaranteed (wherever you're seated you're never far from the stage; you can see well the faces of all the actors/singers), and the orchestra is not obliged to push to produce a huge sound, which is particularly convenient for this opera as the orchestra can work on gradually 'materializing'  the symbolism of this music.

This opera is very special and if you didn't get hooked so far, I suggest not to try listening to it on CD or even DVD. You should first try and listen to it in a theater or a concert hall, with an orchestra capable to bring all the little subtleties to life. Contrary to Wagner's leitmotivs, here they [leitmotivs] do not relate to persons, characters, situations... but to ideas, to emotions, to symbols. The text is not a poem but prose. (Read a very good note on Wiki)

Braunschweig sets the action in a space which is at first vacuous and then dominated by an elliptic, elevated and slanted plane (geometrically speaking) which resembles a mussel, the core of which --in a few scenes-- is empty, and in others with a big light-house planted in its focuss [c.f. pic above]. The sexual suggestion is almost straightforward. That line/allusion is of course explored, but Braunschweig never crosses the line. He never makes anything too explicit or push the action too far [contrary to what L.Pelly did in his production, released on DVD]. Braunschweig defines the scene and lets it flow. It's left to you and your own sensibility to guide you and to construct the background of the story/symbols you can see on the stage. This does not work with The Ring, but definitely it does with the Debussy's opera.

Marc Barrard

The success of this production is not only due to excellent staging. You have to give props to singers, who are all very good, each very appropriate for his/her role.  Marc Barrard is a notch above the lot though. His Golaud is rough, violent, hypocrite, but never caricature of any of these 'qualities' -- in fact, in some odd way, in fact very human.

 Phillip Addis

Phillip Addis and Karen Vourc'h are simply perfect as Pelléas and Mélisande. They are both young, looking perfectly credible in their innocence and their delicate love. Both act wonderfully and sing impeccably helping to make drama grow emotionally.  Markus Hollop is very good too.

 Karen Vourc'h

To be honest, at the beginning I wasn't very happy with the orchestra, nor with the way Sir Gardiner's reading of the score. It was too 'artificial', pushy: you couldn't feel that flow, so necessary for this opera to match the atmosphere brilliantly prepared by the sets and lights on the stage, and then to let the symbols float. Especially winds were making strange noise at the beginning. Happily right after Act-1 everything started to fit in, and by the Act-3 we were fully in that peculiar Debussy-an musical flow and Gardiner started guiding the orchestra and not pushing it. Act-4 and 5 were simply perfect!

 Sir John Eliot Gardiner

And so, here you have a good example of how to produce a very delicate piece of work, make it work at all possible levels without tons of decors or overwhelming stars.

It may come as a surprise that the  public responded very positively and Braunschweig wasn't booed: a good production without boos in Paris is a rarity these days...

 Stéphane Braunschweig

N.B. Pelléas et Mélisande will be live broadcast from Opéra Comique via Mezzo.tv on June 24 at 20:30 cet (check out your cable network, or ADSL...)

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