Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Music of introverted tenderness and a libretto that hints at much and offers few answers - such is Pelléas et Mélisande, Claude Debussy´s only completed opera, based on the play of the same name by the Symbolist and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck.
Staged in Essen's Aalto Theatre, this pioneering work of early modern times was a landmark. "Conductor Stefan Soltesz knows how to highlight these sensualist Debussy colours, let melody blossom, enthrall with the magic
of sound. And when these seraphic tones ring out from a stage flooded with light, we cannot help but leave the world far behind", wrote the critics. The consummately precise staging by veteran stage director Nikolaus Lehnhoff has a cast to match these wondrous sounds. The characters seem to float through the scenes, bringing to the stage the unspeakable, the negation and extinction of their feelings, showing the people of this story in inescapable solitude.
This production stars the young South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo as Pelléas and Michaela Selinger as Mélisande, as well as Vincent Le Texier and Doris Soffel.
PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE
Pelléas – Jacques Imbrailo
Mélisande – Michaela Selinger
Golaud – Vincent Le Texier
Geneviève – Doris Soffel
Arkel – Wolfgang Schöne
Yniold – Dominik Eberle
Doctor – Mateusz Kabala
Aalto Theatre Opera Chorus
(chorus master: Alexander Eberle)
Essen Philharmonic Orchestra
Stefan Soltesz, conductor
Nikolaus Lehnhoff, stage director
Raimund Bauer, set designer
Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, costume designer
Olaf Freese, lighting designer
Recorded live from the Aalto-Musiktheater Essen, 2012
Picture format: NTSC 16:9, 1080i High Definition
Sound format: PCM Stereo / dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: French, German, English, Spanish, Italian, Korean
Running time: 151 mins
No. of Discs: 1
R E V I E W:
DEBUSSY Pelléas et Mélisande • Stefan Soltesz, cond; Jacques Imbrailo (Pelléas); Michaela Selinger (Mélisande); Vincent Le Texier (Golaud); Doris Soffel (Geneviève); Wolfgang Schöne (Arkel); Dominik Eberle (Yniold); Mateusz Kabala (Doctor); Essen PO; Op Ch of the Aalto Theater • ARTHAUS 108086 (Blu-ray: 151:00) Live: Essen 2012
Pelléas et Mélisande is a true 20th-century, post-Wagnerian work. Composer Debussy spent hours and hours on the evocative orchestral score, only to provide his singers with largely declamatory roles. Like the best of the Hitchcock film thrillers of mid-20th century, the piece depends on atmosphere to weave its powerful spell. As also with Hitchcock, Pelléas depends on powerful acting in the lead roles, which it gets here.
This production, from the Aalto-Musiktheater in Essen in 2012, has its peculiarities, but it also presents a compelling and often spellbinding version of the opera. The three lead singers could hardly be bettered. Baritone Jacques Imbrailo as Pelléas gives us just the air of hapless, innocent naïveté the role requires. Imbrailo/Pelléas proceeds artlessly down his foreordained path without realizing the tragic consequences until far too late. Imbrailo also sings well in the brief bits where he is given the opportunity. Soprano Michaela Selinger radiates just the proper blend of enigmatic mystery coupled with a lonely vulnerability that makes every heart flutter in sympathetic attraction. She also sings well in her brief musical call-ups, particularly in her balcony scene with Pelléas in act III. But the heart and soul of this opera is the sometimes thankless role of Golaud. He is the deus ex machina that must stir the emotional pot. Here we have a consummately nuanced performance by baritone Vincent Le Texier. Le Texier commands the stage as few can do in this day and age, and rivets the eye with his magnetic presence. He alone is worth the price of admission, and along with his cohorts provides a compelling reason to watch this opera, and particularly, this version of it.
I was a little disappointed in director Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s unit set. With dark risers and walls that can be opened or closed at the back, it is serviceable without being truly distinctive. For an opera with so many discrete settings—forest, castle, grotto by the sea, fountains in the garden—this set lacks true visual likeability. Costumes are amorphous in period, and well serve the visual presentation. Lighting by Olaf Freese is integral here to establishing the compelling atmospheric drama. Curiously, the mid-range camera shots appear in crisp detail, as one would expect on a high definition Blu-ray disc, while all of the close-ups (and there are many) appear fuzzy and a bit out of focus. It rather negates the advantages of the hih-definition format. Sound is very good, with the orchestra perhaps a trifle recessed. Debussy’s Impressionistic score is not quite emphasized here as perhaps it should be, but that very well may be a problem in mixing and editing, rather than with the fine orchestra and leader.
There are other very good versions of Pelléas et Mélisande out there on video; Pierre Boulez with the Welsh National Opera comes to mind. This Arthaus recording is a particularly good one as well, worth acquiring for the fine dramatic performances of its lead singers. If you enjoy this opera the Arthaus production provides a quite satisfying and memorable version of it. Recommended.
FANFARE: Bill White Read less
Works on This Recording
Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
Mateusz Kabala (Baritone),
Vincent Le Texier (Bass Baritone),
Jacques Imbrailo (Baritone),
Michaela Selinger (Soprano),
Doris Soffel (Mezzo Soprano),
Wolfgang Schöne (Bass),
Dominik Eberle (Bass)
Essen Philharmonic Orchestra,
Aalto Theatre Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1893-1902; France
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