Opera Review: Pelléas et Mélisande Glyndebourne | Theatre | Entertainment
The grounds on the Sussex Downs near Lewes offer the perfect location for a picnic during their traditional long intervals, the sign on the grass that says “Please do not picnic on the croquet lawn” deserves listing as a Sign of Supreme Civilisation, and the operatic standards are as high as one can experience anywhere.
The current production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, however, is far less satisfying than usual.
This year is the centenary of Debussy’s death, which must have contributed to Glyndebourne’s reasons for staging his only opera, which is a bewildering piece at the best of times and the new production by Stefan Herheim adds to the bewilderment.
The opera is based on a play by the Nobel Prize winning Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck which had irs premiere in 1893.
Debussy’s opera appeared nine years later to a mixed reception.
The music, like his highly acclaimed works for orchestra and piano, was rich, luscious and meandering, evoking a wide range of emotions, but unlike most operas both of its time and earlier, it had almost nothing resembling an aria.
The fine melodies were all given to the orchestra, not the singers, which can make it less satisfying to listen to.
The plot concerns a love triangle. Prince Golaud, lost in a forest, meets Mélisande who has just dropped her crown in a spring and cannot retrieve it.
He persuades her to come back to his castle; they subsequently get married.
Six months pass and then Golaud’s brother Pelléas meets and falls in love with Mélisande and they begin an affair.
Golaud learns of this, takes his sword, kills Pélleas and wounds Mélisande, who subsequently died in childbirth.
The singing, I must say, is sublime.
John Chest as Pelléas and Christina Gansch as Mélisande make a delightful couple and Christopher Purves is wonderfully threatening as Golaud.
Sadly, a severe sore throat prevented the wonderful Brindley Sherratt from singing the role of the men’s father King Arkel on the opening night, but he acted the role on stage while the singing was done excellently by Richard Wiegold from the wings.
With the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Robin Ticciati giving a gloriously expressive performance of the music, this was all rather wonderful to listen to. It was what we were watching that was perplexing.
Whereas the story and the original play take place in a number of locations, from castle to forest to the banks of a well, the entire production at Glyndebourne is set in a model of Glyndebourne’s own organ room.
The set admittedly is most striking, but the mysticism of the tale, appropriate in a forest at dusk, just looks weird in the Glyndebourne organ room, even more so when mysterious figures start appearing, as they do from time to time, between the pipes of the organ.
Part of the usual appeal of Glyndebourne is that its productions are exquisite and imaginative but can normally be relied upon to avoid the directorial self-indulgence that is all too often seen in other opera houses.
Stefan Herheim’s production, however, seem to me to be picnicking on the croquet lawn of implausibility.