OPERA NEWS - Pelléas et Melisande
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Pelléas et Melisande

Bavarian State Opera

Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Melisande is a unique opera, full of the suggestive, the mysterious, the fantastic. The text itself, adapted by Debussy from Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist play of 1893, is fraught with psychological puzzles. The answers to the questions the opera raises often have nothing to do with the questions themselves: each answer instead delves into the complex psyche of the protagonists involved. The Bavarian State Opera chose to mount a new production of Pélleas in the Prinzregententheater, a most appropriate venue because it offers the correct intimacy for this most intimate of operas, as the opening night of this year's Festival (seen June 28). 

One has a tendency these days of categorizing productions as either "trash" or "true.” The fact is that a production, modern or otherwise, is thought out either well or poorly. Christiane Pohle's new staging of Pelléas, as seen on its first evening, did not fail miserably because it was modern. It failed because it contradicted the music at every turn, because it turned unconventional into commonplace, turned the magical into the ordinary and diminished the score's abundance of color into aesthetic emptiness. It reduced the characters onstage to a zombie state. 

The entire action takes place on a unit set, designed by Maria-Alice Bahra, that seems to depict a hotel lobby furnished with any number of chairs — chairs being a major symbol in this staging — as well as a reception desk and flower pots filled mostly with dead or dying branches. There is also a raised, open passageway at the rear of stage right on which some scenes are played. Old Arkel is hotelier, his kingdom of Allemonde trivial rather than mythical. There is no tower, no pool of water; Mélisande's hair is not long, Golaud has no weapon with which to kill Pelléas; there are no sheep nor any of the sleeping poor; Arkel is not blind, etc. With the exception of the love scene in Act IV, there is little interaction between the principals, movement is minimal and any atmosphere is imaginary at best. That one is dealing with lost souls is so blatantly underlined that it becomes nearly irrelevant. 

Pohle's staging reveals nothing new, nothing touching or moving, nothing of psychological depth. In fact, it reveals next to nothing at all. The audience is not drawn into the story but rather alienated from it. This was a particular shame since the musical representation of the opera left literally nothing to be desired. Conductor Constantinos Carydis drew myriad colors and nuances from the brilliantly disposed Bavarian State Opera Orchestra. Carydis's performance reached its height in the fourth act, where the tender longing of King Arkel was as poignant as the explosive outbursts of Golaud or the surging of love between the title characters. Under Carydis's baton, the music flowed in an endless river of sound and in sublime detail. 

Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova touched the heart as Mélisande, her singing pure and her voice rich. Baritone Markus Eiche was a towering Golaud, as capable of tonal outbursts as he was of tonal subtlety. American baritone Elliot Madore conquered the high soaring role of Pelléas with exquisite vocal beauty and seeming ease. Alastair Miles was a full-voiced, highly sympathetic Arkel, boy soprano Hanno Eilers (a member of the famous Bad Tölz Boys' Choir) was an extraordinarily accomplished Yniold, garnering deserved ovations at the end of the opera. As Geneviève, Okka von der Damerau added another gem of characterization to her repertoire, despite the ludicrous wig she was given; Peter Lobert made the most of the Doctor, some silly staging notwithstanding, and Evgenij Kachurovsky was a fine Shepherd. Under Carydis' leadership, the entire cast was stylistically impeccable, making the music a joy to hear. After the final curtain, bravos abounded for the musical participants. A cascade of booing greeted the stage team. —Jeffrey A. Leipsic 

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