Notes and Editorial Reviews
Claude Debussy - Pélleas et Mélisande
Opernhaus Zürich, 2004
Rodney Gilfry (Pelléas)
Isabel Rey (Mélisande)
Michael Volle (Golaud)
László Polgár (Arkel)
Cornelia Kallisch (Geneviéve)
Eva Liebau (Yniold)
Guido Götzen (Le berger & Le médecin)
Chor des Opernhauses Zürich, Orchester der Oper Zürich
FRANZ WELSER-MÖST, Conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf, Stage Director
TDK presents a DVD of Claude Debussy’s only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, recorded live at the Zurich Opera. The opera’s premiere in Paris in 1902
brought the new century to the stage. It came quietly, introducing a new female figure that provided the visual artists of l’art nouveau with a fascinating alternative to such femmes fatales as Oscar Wilde’s Lulu and Frank Wedekind’s Salome.
Debussy (1862-1918) adapted a dreamlike libretto by the Belgian playwright and poet, Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) and in the music retained the symbolic quality of the mysterious, almost static fairytale. The opera opens with symbolic images that could come straight from a Freudian dream. In the imaginary kingdom of Allemonde the widowed Golaud encounters Mélisande, weeping beside a well in the forest concealing her face and character behind her long hair, passively suffering her fate. She has lost her crown. He falls in love with her, marries her and takes her back home to his castle. The other characters are Golaud’s mother Geneviève, his grandfather Arkel and his half-brother Pelléas. Pelléas, too, falls in love with the beautiful and listless Mélisande, and she clearly returns his feelings.
Conductor Franz Welser-Möst and director Sven-Eric Bechtolf have become one of the leading partnerships in contemporary music theatre. Pelléas et Mélisande opened in the autumn of 2004 and was their fifth joint venture after Lulu, Otello, Die tote Stadt and Der Rosenkavalier. The characters are impressively enacted by two regular visitors to the Zurich Opera, Rodney Gilfrey and Isabel Rey in the titles roles, and by two members of the ensemble, Cornelia Kallisch as Geneviève and Laszló Polgár as Arkel. Occasionally placed in wheelchairs that hint at emotional as well as physical inadequacies and frequently doubled by puppets, Debussy’s protagonists are kept at a distance in their subconscious dream world. Franz Welser-Möst conducts a performance that is clear, well structured, unsentimental and attuned to the alertness and pioneering spirit of a score that even today has lost none of its radiance.
The designer Rolf Glittenberg set the work in a remote operatic universe that is both greyish white and ice cold. At the back of the stage is a semicircular sheet of corrugated iron with a gap in the middle, and in front of this, on a revolve, is a lectern-shaped object surrounded by artificial snow. There are few props apart from some empty aquaria and a bed that is sometimes covered in white sheets, sometimes in black. Everything is in a state of suspense, acquiring a symbolic dimension. When Pelléas and Mélisande sit by the well in the castle grounds, she drops her husband Golaud’s ring into the well. Later, while she is combing her hair, she and Pelléas draw closer to each other. Racked by suspicion, Golaud forces his little son, Yniold, to spy on the couple. Here the famous tower scene is set in and around an iced-up Citroën. Pelléas plans to leave, but before doing so he meets the pregnant Mélisande by the well and tells her that he loves her. They kiss. The jealous Golaud rushes in and kills Pelléas. Mélisande gives birth to a daughter and dies. Golaud grieves, not knowing if the moribund land of Allemonde holds a future for the sickly infant.
With this DVD, TDK continues a series of recordings from the Zurich Opera that have so far included the classic Ruth Berghaus production of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt in 1999 (DV-OPDFR), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in a staging by Jonathan Miller, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst in 2000 (DV-OPDFR) and the long-running Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi, staged by David Pountney under the musical direction of Franz Welser-Möst and recorded in 2001.
In the booklet accompanying the DVD, music critic Manuel Brug unfolds the background and historical dimensions of the opera in his highly infomative essay “In the cold dream-world of the subconscious”.
Sound Formats: D 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM-STEREO
Picture Format: 16:9 (widescreen)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
Running Time: 161 minutes
Works on This Recording
Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
Cornelia Kallisch (Alto),
Isabel Rey (Soprano),
Michael Volle (Baritone),
Rodney Gilfry (Baritone),
László Polgár (Bass),
Guido Götzen (Bass),
Eva Liebau (Soprano)
Zurich Opera Chorus,
Zurich Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1893-1902; France
Date of Recording: 2004
Venue: Zurich, Switzerland
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