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Thread: Pelléas et Mélisande at the Komische Oper Berlin

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Pelléas et Mélisande at the Komische Oper Berlin

    Pelléas et Mélisande - drame lyrique in five acts, sung in French, with German surtitles
    Music by Claude Debussy
    Libretto by the composer, adapted from the play by Maurice Maeterlinck

    A new co-production of the Komische Oper Berlin and the Nationaltheater Mannheim

    This review is of the last performance of the run, attended in person on July 12, 2018. This encore presentation is part of the Komische Oper Summer Festival.

    This article is part of the Opera Lively coverage of opera houses in the German-speaking area of Central Europe in the Summer of 2018 - see the links to numerous other reviews, interviews, pictorial blogs, and other articles related to this coverage, by clicking [here]

    Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin - CONDUCTOR - Jordan de Souza

    Stage Direction - Barrie Kosky
    Stage design / Lighting - Klaus Grünberg
    Co-stage designer - Anne Khun
    Costumes - Dinah Ehm
    Dramaturgy - Johanna Wall


    Arkel, King of Allemonde - Jens Larsen
    Geneviève, mother of Pelléas and Golaud - Nadine Weissmann
    Pelléas - Jonathan McGovern
    Golaud - Günter Papendell
    Mélisande - Opera Lively interviewee Nadja Mchantaf
    Yniold, the young son of Golaud from his first marriage - David Wittich - Solist des Tölzer Knabenchores
    A doctor / The voice of the shepherd - Samuli Taskinen


    There is a trailer of this production available on YouTube, and a brief making-off clip:


    With his deeply moving Eugene Onegin, Barrie Kosky took audiences and the press by storm – now he is once more peering into the ominous abyss of the human soul and tackling one of the most symbolic Fin de Siècle masterpieces. Opera Lively interviewee Nadja Mchantaf, who conquered the public’s heart as Cendrillon, Tatjana and Rusalka, is playing Mélisande.

    In a far-flung place, Golaud, the grandson of King Arkel of Allemonde, meets the lonely Mélisande. Her crown is irretrievably lost, yet she seems to care not. She follows the prince. Once back in Golaud’s homeland, the two marry. Yet this is also where Mélisande meets her husband’s younger brother, Pelléas. And even though for the longest time no one cares to admit it, this encounter is fateful and matters take their inevitable course.

    Defying all convention, Maurice Maeterlinck reduced the external action of his plays to a minimum; everything of consequence is to be found in the implications between the lines, and is created only through the viewer’s powers of empathy and imagination. Debussy congenially captured the ambiguous currents of the source material in a musical chamber play in the Impressionist style. This production by Barrie Kosky conjures up the psychodrama of a moribund, late-bourgeois society which has nothing with which to counter a world out of balance other than the solace of a finely chiselled melancholy.

    The conducting is provided by Canadian-born Jordan de Souza, the new Kapellmeister of the Komische Oper Berlin and – at not even 30 years of age – a rising star in the international scene.


    Review of the performance:

    The company that greets you with a glass of rosé wine when you arrive, and says farewell with a small box of delicious chocolate, did it again: another great production by the Komische Oper Berlin! This is one of my favorite pieces, and I've seen a number of productions of it, most notably the gorgeous one I attended live in Aix-en-Provence directed by Katie Mitchell and divinely sung by Barbara Hannigan, Stéphane Degout, and Laurent Naouri. I had assumed that the Aix show would always be my definitive Pelléas et Mélisande, with any other not even coming close. Well, I was wrong. This one does come close. Certainly vocally speaking the trio from Aix with their vast experience, two of them singing in their native French (and the other one coming from bilingual Canada and used to French from a young age), did beat our younger ensemble of singers at the Komische, especially in the matter of diction. Also, tonight Dominik Köninger who sang Pelléas throughout this run was replaced by Jonathan McGovern.

    This is not to say that the singing was sub-par; we'll just acknowledge that it didn't match the stratospheric quality of Barbara, Stéphane, and Laurent, but our singers tonight were very good, particularly Nadja and Günter. The comprimarios were excellent as well, once more showing the steady quality of the Komische's ensemble. I'd score the singing as A+ for Nadja, A for Günther, and B+ for Jonathan, with the comprimarios scoring a B+ as well, except for the boy David Wittich who was surprisingly good and gets an A. So, the singing average comes to an A.

    The principal merit of this show, however, was the acting, helped by a very focused and precise staging. It is no secret that I love minimalist productions, and it doesn't get much more minimalist than that, while still being called fully staged as opposed to semi-staged.

    There was one prop: a branch of thorns with two roses. The stage dimension was reduced in purpose (you can see the proportion in one of the curtain call pictures below), being just a fraction of the total space of the Komische's stage, certainly to increase the claustrophobic feelings. There are four black walls with white dots that delineate a progressively smaller space, and the floor is a revolving one that allow singers to come in and out without actually walking. Everything is very dark, except for Mélisande's ever-changing clothes (some very simple, some more complex).

    This very sparse set-up works magically in enhancing the dramatic intensity and highlighting the psychological drama of the piece. I remember being admirative of the visual beauty of the Aix-en-Provence sets, but I did not leave the theater in Aix feeling so emotionally devastated like I did tonight.

    Nadja was phenomenal as an actress. When she is abused and tossed around by Arksel and then Golaud, it's viscerally disturbing, due to how realistically she interpreted the scenes. Not even Barbara Hannigan had this much emotinal intensity, and this is saying something because Barbara is an extremely gifted actress. Bravo, Nadja!!

    I interviewed Nadja again (our second with this lovely young artist) before watching the show. I did see it briefly online, without paying much attention, and I asked her a question about different productions featuring a very sexualized Mélisande versus others in which she is a bit a-sexual, and I thought this one was more of the latter. Nadja was a bit surprised, and said, "no, my Mélisande is very sexual." I don't know how I missed it online, but yes, even more than in the Aix production, Mélisande here becomes very sexually aggressive in her scene with Pelléas that drives Golaud to kill his brother. The interesting point is that she had already noticed that Golaud was spying on them, and she then undresses Pelléas and herself (no nudity involved; the singers remained partially clothed during the scene) and makes love to him right in front of Golaud, in a sort of suicidal, defiant move. This scene was very powerful, as much as Golaud's brutal murder of his brother).

    Another strong moment was the long death scene for Mélisande. Unlike the entire duration of the opera when people don't walk on stage but just allow themselves to be carried by the revolving floor, instead of the typical scene in which Mélisande is just lying in bed, over here Mélisande stands up and walks around, assertively interacting with the other characters although she is covered in blood. Again, this scene causes goosebumps.

    Staging, A++, and acting A+ (with Nadja's and Günther's being A++). Blocking, lighting; very well done; most of the action is done by the conveyor belts, but it's all very precise and interesting; and the general darkness of the stage does get strategically modified in a subtle way by lighting. A+.

    The orchestra and the very young conductor were very convincing in playing Debussy's beautiful score. A+.

    Overall, this was another very good show in this trip (the 15th one, only one more to go), with a range of scores going from B+ to A++ (so it wasn't entirely homogenous), resulting in a solid A+, with some elements like the inventive minimalist staging and Nadja's and Gunther's acting achieving the maximum score of A++. While it didn't quite replace the Aix show in my preference, it was undoubtedly one of the best Pelléas et Mélisandes I've ever seen, and it will leave lasting memories.

    Again, this is another example of how much better it is to attend a show live. I didn't have as good an impression of this production when I saw it online. Definitely, seeing it live at the opera house (and a house as nice as the Komische, definitely one of my favorite opera companies in the world), made a huge difference, unsurprisingly.

    Curtain call pictures:

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    Production pictures - Photo credits Monika Rittershaus (fair promotional use):

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    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 23rd, 2019 at 05:17 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    The review of the performance is now complete, above.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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