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Pelléas in Berlin

As mentioned before (see Preview of the Opera Season, 2004–2005), many opera houses are mounting productions of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. (Ionarts has a similar consideration of the revival of Robert Wilson's production in Paris.) The new production at the Deutsche Oper Berlin premiered on October 10.

From Manuel Brug's review (Ein Boot - und viel Beton, October 12) for Die Welt:

A Boat – And Lots of Concrete

The Deutsche Oper Berlin glows with Debussy. Marco Arturo Marelli moves "Pelléas et Mélisande" into the Bunker

Is it really so difficult? A perfect cast, an intelligent conductor for a willingly cultivated orchestra, a well done–even tasteful–direction that doesn't know everything better. Dramma per musica that is alive and at the highest level—as an event professionally kept subtle, without the need for 'message' and foaming from the mouth... but one that wants to touch, entertain, and be liked. In Berlin, the city that still has three opera houses, that seems to be the exception. And then there comes Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande to the Deutsche Oper, [...] 102 years old already, a bewitched musical fairytale, poetic, sound-sensitive and overflowing with riches but far from being blockbuster—and everything is right: a thankful audience applauds itself into a frenzy of ovations. [...]

The production team of Marco Arturo Marelli and Dagmar Niefind (Costumes) are known as finders of pretty pictures with little depth. But this Pelléas, told without symbolic riddles and enigmas, seems to be dear to their heart, even though they were, after original producer Michael Thalheimer quit, only second choice. They never topple Maeterlinck, they play his dreamy, unexplainable story of Mélisande (found in the woods by Golaud, falling in love with his brother Pelléas who in turn gets killed by Golaud) just as it is written in the libretto and very concretely.

There is a location for this nightmarish play: [Note: Either Die Welt or Mr. Burg himself spells the corresponding word (Albtraum) with a "p" – a surefire sign that ultimately, the publication or its author lacks any and all sophistication. That many encyclopedias also make the same mistake is no excuse; the etymology takes 30 seconds to establish and make nonsense of the version with "p."] It is an old bunker, half submerged in water, somewhere at the Atlantic Line—an irregular hall of concrete, cold and eerie. Here lives the royal family of the sinister land of Allemonde, grey in grey, where Men and Animals or move away from, without a future and devoid of hope. In a barren room lies the more or less mute and ill father of Pelléas; later his dead son is laid out in the same space. The old King Arkel (Reinhard Hagen) sits blind in a wheelchair with an intravenous drip in his arm. Geneviève (Claire Powell), mother to both half-brothers, is a nurse, not ruler.

And yet the elf-like Mélisande of Véronique Gens—who spins out soprano lines of pure silver—brings poetry and beauty into this dreariness. The light of her blossoming feelings for Pelléas reflects in blue from the dancing reflections off the water in the grotto and the scene at the tower. The white boat on which she, like Hans-Christian Andersen's Mermaid in Copenhagen, sat at the shore in the beginning, becomes a symbol of their love—a protecting skiff, bobbing on the waves, pulled by Pelléas. But he is also stabbed in the same skiff—the boat then lying on shore—and it becomes the deathbed of Mélisande, on which servants of the white light pull her to a Böcklin-like Isle of the Dead.
[Richard Croft was a softly insistent but ultimately weak Pelléas in Duffle-coat and sneakers. Larent Naouri’s Golaud was the true winner, making for a broken, pity-evoking figure and the discovery of the production. He murders not because he wants to, but because he feels he must. He does not succeed in love because the object of his desire escapes via death. In the icy universe of Golaud we shiver with him. The wonderfully clear conducting of Marc Albrecht was a sensibly sensuous compromise between oft-employed radical choices. His dreamlike reactive, French-sounding orchestra makes for a wonderfully poignant Debussy.]
Additional Commentary by Charles T. Downey

In addition to the review translated here, here are some more reviews:

Klaus Geitel (Auf Wellen gebettet, October 12) for Berliner Morgenpost:

Conductor Marc Albrecht "should be named the new music director of the Deutsche Oper. He leads his orchestra on quiet feet through the multichromatic score: this palette of wondrous sound, which is unfolded with care and serendipity."
Tobias Wolff (Nachtblaue Liebesszene inmitten grauer Trostlosigkeit, October 12) for the Leipziger Volkszeitung:

With over 120 light settings, director and stage designer Marco Arturo Marelli produces innumerable gray tones on the naked surfaces, plays with the reflections of the water, with the darkness, with the shade of the sharp edges and projections. In the night-blue of the sweet scene between Pelléas and Mélisande an unbelievable warmth radiates. And at the conclusion Mélisande finds the way out only through death, with the boat led through a gate . . . by women in spring-like colored dresses (costumes: Dagmar Niefind). There are rarely opera performances in which the general impression is as powerful as this one, because in his production Marelli has formed each small detail of the characters consistently."
Ulrich Amling, (Der Untergang, October 12) for Der Tagesspiegel:

"A gigantic bunker fills the stage, a dead concrete island, into whose narrow space a faint light penetrates only rarely. Here lives the unfortunate king house of Allemonde, with whose troubled family the curious Mélisande becomes involved. There are also 85,000 liters [18700 gallons] of water that has penetrated this inhospitable area, enough to turn around a boat on or wade into up to the knees. This enormous wet space is the leading actor in Marco Arturo Marelli's production. The Swiss stage designer noticed that Debussy's masterpiece has water running through its veins. Truth does not flash here in rivulets of fake blood, but in the play of the colors on the water surface, which represent the feeling on the sea of the soul."
Georg Friedrich Kühn ("Pelléas et Melisande", October 11) for Deutschlandfunk (DeutschlandRadio Berlin):

"Véronique Gens is a marvelously well-articulated Mélisande . . . Laurent Naouri is the brutal Golaud, who attacks and humiliates his Mélisande when she is dying in her bed."
Laura Naumburg (Zwölf Arten, das Wasser zu beschreiben, October 12) for Neues Deutschland:

"Mélisande has never died as beautifully as in Marco Arturo Marelli's production. Water has never shone more seductively than in Marco Arturo Marelli's scenery. Watery music has never murmured, breathed, or rushed more beautifully than in Marc Albrecht's hands at the orchestra podium of the Deutsche Oper Berlin."
Axel Brüggemann (Wer Oper liebt, gewinnt, October 17) for Die Welt am Sonntag

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