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21.9.04

Pelléas in Paris

Death of Mélisande, Robert Wilson's production, 2004This seems to be the year of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, which is being staged this season in many places (see my preview of the Opera Season, 2004–2005). The first of the new productions is the first staging of the opera at the Opéra Bastille in Paris, from September 13 to October 2. Sylvain Cambreling is conducting, and the design is a revival of an earlier staging by the ever controversial Robert Wilson (of Einstein on the Beach and many other productions). In an article («Pelléas et Mélisande» à l'Opéra Bastille, September 8) for Figaroscope, Jacqueline Thuilleux gave a preview of the production (my translation):

Rather than inaugurating his term with a new production, Gérard Mortier opens with a reprise of what was one of the most fascinating productions of the Opéra: he simply transferred it from the Palais Garnier to the Opéra Bastille, to serve it better, it seems.
Mireille Delunsch is Mélisande, Simon Keenlyside is Pelléas, Jose van Dam reprises his 1997 appearance as the menacing Golaud, and Ferrucio Furlanetto is the creepy Arkel.

Philippe Herlin, the Paris contingent of ConcertoNet, reminds us, in his review of this production, not to forget that this production was originally a coproduction with the Salzburg Festival in 1997, where the large hall, the Grosses Festspielhaus, has an even larger stage space than that of the Bastille. In another review of the premiere (Un pur «Pelléas», September 15) for Libération, Eric Dahan says that although the Paris season opened officially with Rossini's L'Italiana in Algieri at the Garnier on Saturday night, the new director, Gérard Mortier, invited his friends not to that opera but to Monday's opening of Pelléas at the Bastille, the symbolic inauguration of his term. He continues (my translation):
The work is dear to his heart because Maeterlinck, who wrote the libretto, was born in Ghent like he was. Also, Robert Wilson's production is completely in line with his taste, since he was the first to unveil it in Salzburg, in the mid-1990s, before its revival for three seasons at the Palais Garnier. Some fans of the new director cannot contain their joy, speaking of the "fresh breeze in the Opéra de Paris." Mortier began by elevating the Bastille orchestra pit by 40 cm [15.7 inches], and opting for an arrangement of the double basses centered in the back, which neatly resolves the acoustical problems for the audience in the orchestra section. He also plans to sell, at reduced prices, standing room places at the back of the hall, sold the night of the performance, as is the practice at the Met in New York, among others.
That's good news! After seeing Capriccio at the Garnier this summer (see my review from July 11), I was disappointed not to be able to get a ticket for less than 40€ at the Bastille, and I have been in one of those standing room places at the Met on more than one occasion. Dahan says also that Mortier insisted on hiring a child soloist (from the Tölzer Knabenchor, as at Salzburg) to sing the role of the child Yniold, which is what Debussy always wanted, instead of casting it as a pants role.

Here's another production of the opera that I missed before, the Hanover State Opera's performance at the Edinburgh Festival, reviewed by Rupert Christiansen, Hijacked to the lunatic asylum (The Telegraph, August 24). The staging "is set in some sort of white-walled mental institution. Arkel and Genevieve are the hippie shrinks, Yniold is a victim of attention deficit disorder, and Pelléas, Mélisande and Golaud are the adult inmates, all three in varying states of denial." To make a long story short, hated it! However, in the same review he says of the HSO's other Edinburg production, "Richard Strauss's Capriccio may be composed with supreme craft, but it is merely an elegant divertissement which engages neither heart nor head." That reveals an operatic sense completely foreign from my own, so I am not going to listen too closely to his opinion.

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