Pelléas et Mélisande

The Royal Opera House. London. Spring. 2007

Pelléas et Mélisande, ummm… a difficult piece, sort of modern opera and then again sort of child of Wagner. The work is all about a totally dysfunctional family living in a nowhere place in a bit of non time with God problems hovering over their shoulders. Hadn’t though about this relationship between two such diverse composers until sitting through the present new production.

Maybe it is the way Simon Rattle coaxes he orchestra into making such sensuous sounds and for once being able to encourage some drama out of the music. So often Debussy’s score like a continuous murmur of the sea with a bit of a blow happening occasionally. It was a real joy to wallow in this amazing music; it was as if I was hearing it for the very first time.

All the singers are magnificent, mind you, both Pelléas and Mélisande come over like a middle-aged couple having sex problems; but then both Angelika Kirchschlager and Simon Keenlyside are no spring chickens. Innocent and young, never. But the sounds they sing are sweetness and light and I can’t imagine them ever to be bettered. All the cast is very much up to snuff, Gerald Finley’s Golaud is especially fine; a sexy and kindly monarch much puzzled by all the angst ridden goings on.

The design is smart, huge boxes on wheels that get pushed around the stage and then open up to reveal interior spaces, glass walls sometimes, rows of bloodied pillows in another scene and one where Mélisande, supposedly in her tower, stands on a ledge against a white wall where fifty other identical dresses are hung. It all looks like pages from an up-market fashion mag. I’m not sure that timelessness can be depicted and projected via the pages of Architectural Digest or Vogue.

Mélisande has only one dress poor girl, a bright red bottom-hugging satin one, the only bit of colour on stage, surely innocence was her ploy? A scarlet woman is not what either the music or the text says.

Everyone else is padded and laced into white satin clown outfits, buffoon wide trousers topped by padded jackets with bejewelled breastplates. Sort of works, but boy do these chaps look fat!

A rather beautiful production, and despite the slowness of pace I didn’t see anyone in the audience sleeping.

This production was initiated at the Salzburg Festival, so if you missed it there it is worth picking it up in London for it isn’t often you can listen to Rattle in control of such terrific singers. A recommended outing, and definitely vaut le voyage.

Polly Hope. London. May MMV11