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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 Metropolitan Opera House

    Pelléas et Mélisande, drame lyrique en cinq actes et 12 tableaux, sung in French, with Met titles in English, German, and Spanish

    Music by Claude Debussy
    Libretto by the composer, adapted from the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris (April 30, 1902)

    This is the 117th Metropolitan Opera performance of this opera, attended in person on 1/22/2019

    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Opera Lively interviewee Yannick Nézet-Séguin
    Production Sir Jonathan Miller
    Set Designer John Conklin
    Costume Designer Clare Mitchell
    Lighting Designer Duane Schuler
    Revival Stage Director Paula Williams

    Cast

    Principal Roles

    Pelléas - Opera Lively interviewee Paul Appleby
    Mélisande - Opera Lively interviewee Isabel Leonard
    Golaud - Kyle Ketelsen
    Arkel - Ferruccio Furlanetto

    Secondary and comprimario roles

    Geneviève - Marie-Nicole Lemieux
    Yniold - A. Jesse Schopflocher
    A shepherd - Jeremy Galyon
    A physician - Paul Corona

    ----------

    Over the last three years, this is my third attendance in person of a live production of Pelléas et Mélisande, one of my very favorite operas. Unfortunately, the previous two shows set the bar so high, that it will be difficult for me to enjoy a new one, for several years to come. I'm talking about the physical aspects and some theatrical elements of the productions (sets, costumes, props, blocking, lighting, stage direction, acting), minus the musical side.

    Don't read me wrong: as far as the music goes, this Met show rivals any in the world, beating most. It was a truly luxury casting with excellent principal singers in the four main roles; Yannick made the public forget that it is just the second time that he is conducting a run of this piece; and the Met Opera Orchestra was phenomenal as usual.

    But the non-musical aspects just couldn't compete with the immensely imaginative staging by Katie Mitchell in Aix-en-Provence, with its raw sexuality and incredible visual impact that enhanced the symbolism by setting it up like a dream, and with the minimalist, violent, bloody, yet focused staging by Barrie Kosky for the Komische Oper Berlin that simply featured a sort of black tunnel that reduced the already small Komische stage to an even smaller and claustrophobic space, so that the characters and the drama got tremendously highlighted.

    [Editor's note: I just interviewed Isabel Leonard about this production, which she strongly defended. I need to acknowledge that after hearing Isabel's points, my opinion of this production has improved, so, I'm now taking with a grain of salt what I said here. After I transcribe her answers and think about them some more, I may even come back to this review and change some aspects of it. For now I'm leaving this review as it is, until I have the time to metabolize all this.]

    Sir Jonathan Miler's production is correct. It is appropriately sober, restrained, and solemn. It does go for a style that is perfectly valid for this piece: static, slow-moving, dark, and it finds clever solutions such as depicting the scenes that are external to the castle, inside it (the forest is a room; so is the cave, Yniold's scene with the boulder and the sheep is just another room where he is sleeping in bed and imagining the rest, and so forth), adding to the feeling of isolation that is one of the main characteristics of the text. The castle is actually a mansion, and it is derelict and falling apart, with a feel of decay, comme il faut. Other interesting touches do exist, such as Mélisande starting with a colorful dress, and as she is contaminated by the atmosphere in the castle, the colors fade, culminating with a black dress when she first appears with a pregnant baby bump (already grieving the inexorable destiny of her future daughter).

    But the problem for me, having seen the other two I've mentioned above, is that this production delivers rightly this masterpiece, but doesn't really add to it like the others did. And I don't mean adding to it in the sense of altering it profoundly (which I generally don't like, although arguably Katie Mitchell's staging does just that), but rather in the sense of highlighting the most compelling characteristics of the work.

    This production is the sort that doesn't get in the way, but also could be just listened to by a patron with eyes closed, without missing much. All artists adopt almost unchangeable facial expressions throughout the show, obviously done as directed, since from other events, I know very well that these artists are capable of phenomenal acting range. For example, Isabel has the briefest of smiles in a couple of scenes, like the window scene with her hair down, or the scene when she is playing with the ring, before dropping it; otherwise she always displays the same fixed, melancholic expression. Nadja Mchantaf in Berlin, on the other hand, was asked to be frightened, aroused, seductive, giggly, frozen, horrified, and so on and so forth, all feelings that Isabel is perfectly capable of conveying. Barbara Hannigan in Aix was asked to be a veritable volcano, a hurricane, lighting the stage on fire and turning the heads of all other characters, as the catalyst of the strongest of emotions.

    Certainly, I repeat, going for the subdued and restrained style is fine, given that Debussy is in charge of delivering all the colors one could possibly want. Still, Miller's take can't be described other than bland when compared to Mitchell's and Kosky's. I suppose that someone who hasn't seen the other two will be thrilled with Miller's staging. Unfortunately for my enjoyment tonight, I have.

    OK, enough of this rant. Let's turn to the musical aspects. There, I was appropriately fulfilled. Isabel Leonard sang the role with her oh-so-beautiful voice. Ferruccio Furlanetto was out of this world. Both singers get from Opera Lively the maximum score of A++. Paul Appleby was below his usual extremely high standard: I was told by his agent that he is battling a bad cold. Still, he did well enough for a singer with a respiratory infection, and earned a grade of A. I'm sure he would have been an A++ too, if he weren't ill. I was very pleasantly surprised with Kyle Ketelsen; A+. Marie-Nicole Lemieux did her small part very well too. The other roles are too small to grade, but nobody disappointed, including the child singer. Yannick and the Met Orchestra had all the right dynamics in the soft and loud parts, and perfect tempi. A++ for both.

    So, musically, it was a great show. I mean, the production is actually nice too; like I said, it does the job well. It's just that I've been spoiled by the other two, and will probably keep complaining of any new (to me) Pelléas et Mélisande I see, until the day when some stage director actually matches Kosky and Mitchell. Therefore, I won't grade the other aspects, lest I'd be unfair.

    Dear readers, do attend this show. It's great singing, conducting, and playing, with a production that is not detrimental to this astounding masterpiece. But if you have an opportunity to see a revival of Katie Mitchell's or Barrie Kosky's, by all means, do, and you'll see what I mean.

    [Editor's note - again, a reminder: Isabel Leonard has advocated so efficiently for the merits of this production that my opinion of it has evolved, and when I have a moment, I am likely to come back to this review and change some of what I said.]

    ------------

    Production pictures, courtesy of the Met Press Department, fair promotional use, photo credits Karen Almond / Metropolitan Opera

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    Paul and Isabel, playing with the ring

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    Paul and Isabel, the cave scene

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    Kyle and Isabel, when he first meets her

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    Kyle and Isabel, when he is wounded

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    Isabel, the hair down scene

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    Isabel and Ferruccio, when he talks about the beauty of youth

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    Isabel and Paul, when he welcomes her to the castle
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 23rd, 2019 at 10:22 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  3. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Interesting. I just interviewed Isabel Leonard about her role of Mélisande and we talked a lot about the merits of this production, which she strongly defended. She was pretty able to change my mind about certain aspects, so my negative take on the non-musical aspects of this show has evolved. Later, time permitting, I am likely to come back here and change some of what I said. Stay tuned for her interview, which is fascinating. It should take several days to publish, given transcription, review, submission for approval, etc.
    "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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    So, here is Isabel Leonard's full interview with us (the third with this artist), where she extensively addressed Pélleas et Mélisande, with some very interesting insights:

    https://operalively.com/forums/conte...Isabel-Leonard

    Like I said above, after talking with Isabel, I changed my mind about this production. She convinced me that this staging was not as bad as I initially said, and aptly characterized it as "still" rather than "static." She also made some interesting points about showing Mélisande as over-sexualized like in Aix-en-Provence, versus this production's more restrained approach.

    I said I'd change my review... well, I won't do that; what is done, is done; but I'll simply acknowledge that Isabel made good points that influenced positively my perception of that show, and if I had talked with her before my review was issued, it would certainly have been a more favorable one.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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