Debussy - Pelleas et Melisande / Croft, Oelze, Tomlinson, Howell, Rigby, Arditti, Davis, Glyndebourne Opera
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Debussy's masterpiece, Pell+ªas et M+ªlisande, is based on Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist play - a tragic fairytale, which recounts the ill-fated love of half-brothers Golaud and Pell+ªas for the same woman, the enigmatic M+ªlisande.
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But who says you have to watch it? Turn your video screen off and you'll have a beautiful experience. The singing is exquisite throughout, and Andrew Davis's conducting brings a lucidity that you don't often hear in this opera.
I love Vick's work with singers and the singers seem to respond to him in the manner one expects only of the finest stage actors. Richard Croft's remarkable performance as Pelleas begins barefoot and in short pants establishing, for once, this character's youth and aimlessness. This image is further enhanced with the introduction of Yniold almost from the start as the two with toy boats by the water's edge. They are uncle and nephew, one, much older than the other, but both still boys. Croft plangent tenor offers the role an absolutely gorgeous, youthful sound, warm and bright making case can be made that this role is now best suited to a tenor, thus making the distinction between the brothers even stronger. Croft's facial expressions, his ability to swing between ecstatic exhilarated joy to crushed devastation is sensational. That voice combined with the physical intensity of his actions make him today's Pelleas of choice.
Christiane Oelze is a stunning, complicated Melisande; a bit of a natural born troublemaker. The famous "Tower scene" finds her hanging upside down from an immense chandelier, endless hair cascading from it, beneath her a supine Pelleas. As the chandelier lowers Pelleas covers himself with her hair and the scene nearly erupts into an almost unbridled show of eroticism, Pelleas barely able to control himself and Melisande leading the way. As sensual as she is physically, Oelze's voice throughout is liquid and exquisite, capturing nuances the best interpreters of this role find in it.
John Tomlinson is a rougher than usual Golaud, his bent towards violence portending trouble early on. His using Yniold to spy on the couple is chilling theatre as violently he kicks, smashing one of the glass tiles of the floor. He is nothing less than brutal in his handling of his young son. It is a terrified Yniold who flees him, hopelessly banging on the doors for someone to release him from this nightmare. Golaud's violence, of course, extends to both brother and wife, yet following each episode his remorse seems genuine and heartbreaking. Tomlinson presents a Golaud who unravels before our eyes, a man who simply cannot cope. It is chilling.
Glyndebourne Music Director, Andrew Davis moves things along to a good, flowing tempi and the London Philharmonic responds with breathtaking sound, alternately dense and diaphanous. This is, quite simply, one of my favorite performances of any opera and haunting, tragic lyric theatre at its very best.
The updating to the turn of the last century provides the story with more relevance to our time and the single set of a winding staircase on a flowery floor isn't as limiting as you might expect.
The performances were fantastic in spite of the setting. All deserve five stars. Even so, I thought Richard Croft as Pelleas and Christian Oelze as Melisande were too "normal," compared to Neill Archer and Alison Hagley, who somehow managed to portray an "other-worldliness."
If you already know the story, then you will enjoy this production, too, in spite of the setting.
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