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Debussy: Pelleas Et Melisande / Elder, Dean, Hannon, Tomlinson, Walker

Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 3177  
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Performer:  Eilene HannanRobert DeanSarah WalkerJohn Tomlinson,   ... 
Conductor:  Mark Elder
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English National Opera OrchestraEnglish National Opera Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

An important and distinguished addition to the Chandos Opera in English series.

I have always thought of Pelléas et Mélisande as a work where the music is so intimately related to the text and its sound that any translation would seriously weaken its impact. At the same time the resulting need for non-French speakers to follow the printed text and translation whilst listening does mean that there can be a sense of watching the action through a grimy pane of glass. Previous published singing translations that I have encountered lack the fluency of the original French, and can be clumsy and no easier for the listener to follow than the original language. The translation used here is by Hugh MacDonald, whose note in
Read more the booklet explains his view that Maeterlinck’s play, the basis for Debussy’s libretto, avoids fanciful language and is in the plainest prose. Accordingly MacDonald believes that the opera should be sung in the language of the audience and should be translated in a very direct way, avoiding the poetic conceits and inverted word orders encountered in other versions. To achieve this he has not hesitated to rewrite the vocal line where necessary in a tactful and convincing manner. The result is very successful in enabling the English-speaking listener to take in and respond to the words as they are sung.

The success or otherwise of such an operation depends crucially on the singers’ ability to enunciate the text clearly. For the most part this is achieved, although as usual it is the female voices that have the greatest difficulty. As a result I found it helpful to have the printed English text beside me when listening but this was not essential. It is very apparent from this recording just what a strong team of singers was available at ENO in 1981. The various roles are cast with a view to the essential vocal contrasts implicit in the music, with Neil Howlett’s strength of voice as well as its very characterful flicker, Eilene Hannan’s ability to convey Mélisande’s fragility without actually sounding fragile herself and John Tomlinson’s weary authority as Arkel most notable. The others are all good too, but as in any satisfactory performance of this opera it is the sense of a team that is most important. Better still, Mark Elder conducts a performance that manages to convey both the strangeness and the passion of the music avoiding the twin traps of becoming fey or coarse.

This was a live performance so that there are occasional stage noises - although applause has mercifully been removed - and a few very minor slips. None of this matters given the real sense of drama here. There are also cuts in some of the interludes between scenes to fit in with the production. I do not know whether these follow the composer’s own original shortened version but they certainly do no harm to either the music or the drama. All in all this is an important and distinguished addition to the Chandos Opera in English series.

– John Sheppard, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Eilene Hannan (Soprano), Robert Dean (Baritone), Sarah Walker (Mezzo Soprano),
John Tomlinson (Bass), Neil Howlett (Baritone), Rosanne Brackenridge (Soprano)
Conductor:  Mark Elder
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English National Opera Orchestra,  English National Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1893-1902; France 
Date of Recording: November 28, 1981 
Venue:  London Coliseum  
Language: English 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Wonderful to hear it in English! June 12, 2012 By Mark Conlan (San Diego, CA) See All My Reviews "Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande" has always been a problematical opera. It's brilliantly conceived and intensely dramatic but can also be quite boring. When he was writing it Debussy said that "certain composers" (he meant Wagner and his imitators) had written operas in which the music took over from the words, and he wanted to restore the primacy of the words. The problem with "Pelléas" is that he succeeded all too well: this is not the sort of opera (as the works of Wagner, Verdi or Puccini are) in which you can let the music wash over you, appreciate the emotions behind it, and enjoy the opera with only an overall sense of the story. To appreciate "Pelléas" you have to have a moment-by-moment understanding of what the characters are saying, and unless you either grew up in a French-speaking country or understand French as well as a native speaker, you're not going to have that understanding from a performance in French. I remember when I first heard that this album was released that I'd just finished listening to several French-language performances of "Pelléas" and had thought, "Gee, I wish someone would record this in English." Then I saw this release advertised and eagerly snapped it up. I'm glad I did: not only is this a well-sung, well-conducted performance, but hearing this opera in my native tongue made it come alive for me in a way it never had before. If you're a native English speaker and "Pelléas" has never come truly alive for you, you owe it to yourself to hear this recording and experience just what a finely wrought, subtle masterpiece this work is once you can actually understand what it's about the way Debussy's French audience could." Report Abuse
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