Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday at the Opera - Pelleas et Melisande - Berlin Philharmonic

You can find this performance of Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande" here: 
There is a fee - and there are also titles in English and German.

     For some reason I have never had the opportunity to see this opera before.  So this is my first time and I found it mesmerizing.  It did not hurt that the performance is outstanding.  The incomparable Berlin Philharmonic is joined by the equally incomparable Gerald Finley as Golaud; Magdalena Kožená as Mélisande; Christian Gerhaher as PelléasBernarda Fink as Geneviève; Franz-Josef Selig as Arkel) and an un-named outstanding boy soprano as Yniold.  The cast was terrific.  Beautiful singing from everyone, but Gerald Finley's Golaud was the tour de force performance here.  As usual the orchestra was incredible.
     This is a semi-staged production, staged by Peter Sellars, and as such it is sparse, but uses all of the available space, including audience space and through the orchestra.  it was very effective.  There was no stand and sing here - the cast completely inhabited their characters.  The only scene that was a bit odd was the scene with the shepherd.  I didn't get what that was about in this staging and did not understand the handcuffs.  I also felt that the handcuff on Golaud in the last scene were unnecessarily constraining.  But those are very minor quibbles.
     I found the work quite moving.  The music is lush and gorgeous, almost too beautiful for such a painful and violent story.  It seems to me that there is a sub-plot about violence against women here.  Melisande is abused.  She is found alone in the woods because she has run away and was obviously traumatized and abused.  And then she is emotionally abused by Golaud and even Arkel.  This is the bequest she leaves to her infant daughter at the end of the opera.  The men are caught in a cycle that they cannot seem to break.  Golaud recognizes that Melisande is a victim, but cannot keep himself from victimizing her further.  For all of the impressionism and romantic sweep of this opera this underlaying cycle of violence and abuse are what struck me most intensely.  I will try to watch a staged version of the opera and compare at some point in the future.  But, even so, this is a story that needs to be told.
     Musically this is a glorious opera.  It is hard to believe that it is so underperformed.  It deserves to be better know.  

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