Pelléas et Mélisande


Claude Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande opera to libretto by Maurice Maeterlinck. Directed 2004 by Sven-Eric Bechtolf at Opernhaus Zürich. Stars Rodney Gilfry (Pelléas), Isabel Rey (Mélisande), Michael Volle (Golaud), Lásló Polgár (Arkel), Cornelia Kallisch (Geneviève), Eva Liebau (Le petit Yniold), and Guido Götzen (Doctor/Shepherd). Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House and the Chorus of the Zurich Opera House (Chorusmaster Ernst Raffelsberger). Sets by Rolf Glittenberg; costumes by Marianne Glittenburg; lighting by Jürgen Hoffmann. Directed for TV by Felix Breisach. Released 2010, disc has 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

NB: This title has been rereleased by Arthaus Musik with different artwork.

 Pelléas et Mélisande is a made-up-from-scratch Medieval-age fairy tale first presented as a play by the symbolist author Maurice Maeterlinck in 1893. Symbolism was an art movement represented by writers like Poe, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé as well as plastic artists like Leighton, Schwabe, Klimt, Redon, and Munch. As described by Jean Moréas, in symbolism things that happen in the world ". . . will not be described for their own sake . . . they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals." This statement also describes the music of Claude Debussy. So Pelléas et Mélisande became the perfect vehicle for Debussy's landmark modern opera first staged in 1902. Although the Debussy opera was concerned with hidden truths, the style of most productions throughout the 20th century was exquisitely elegant, refined, warm, and romantic.

Now fast forward to our Bechtolf/Möst production of 2004 (102 years after the Debussy break-through). The libretto and music are of course the same. But in the design department, the old world of tender, limpid, cozy symbolism has been jettisoned in favor of a brutal new ice age full of harsh surrealistic phenomena. So with this production, you will have to deal with both its symbolist origins and the surrealistic vocabulary of its design. This will likely be too much to sort out on the fly. For example, the libretto is full of references to forests, lime trees, roses and other flowers, parks, birds, sunshine, and warm weather---all of which is utterly inconsistent with the sterile snow-bound sets. So you probably will want to do some homework before you tackle this production.

The singers and the orchestra in this show are fine. The 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound recording is excellent, and the video work is good. But because of the abrasive design, I give this disc the grade of C. If Debussy's style of music appeals to you and you will you chew on this recording a bit, you may well consider it a C+ or B grade disc.