Notes and Editorial Reviews
I’m so used to being a maverick voice in the wilderness that it always amazes, and sometimes unsettles, me when I notice that almost everyone else agrees with me on a certain recording. This is one such, a recording that was recognized as a classic almost from the first day of its release back in the 1970s, a recording that has never left the active catalog. One British reviewer complained that Richard Stilwell’s Pelléas is somewhat flat and lacks “face.” So be it; but I’ve still never heard the role sung anywhere as beautifully. Moreover, Karajan proved here, as Piero Coppola did in the late 1920s and Pierre Monteux in a famous Met performance of the opera in the 1950s, that our perception of this music as some sort of cool, placid
opera, a perception spread to collectors via the famous Roger Desdormière recording from the early 1940s, is incomplete. Karajan’s approach, initially damned by a minority of critics as “overheated” when it first appeared, restored the simmering undercurrent of emotion and eroticism to an opera that had since been deemed safe because it was emotionally neuter.
Von Stade’s unsettled, sometimes edgy Mélisande is such a classic interpretation that we sometimes fail to realize that she was a mezzo soprano, and that this was the first complete recording of the opera featuring this voice range in the title role. Since then, it has been performed by mezzo so often that we take it for granted that it can go either way. Raimondi is a marvelously querulous, sometimes confused Arkel, Denize is superb as Geneviève, and Barbaux sounds so much like a young boy that you have to look twice at the cast list to realize that it’s sung by a soprano. This recording, to put it modestly, was a game-changer, and since its release no other performance on discs has surpassed it.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley [5/2012]
Reviewing EMI 66723 Read less
Works on This Recording
Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
Richard Stilwell (Baritone),
Frederica Von Stade (Mezzo Soprano),
José Van Dam (Baritone),
Ruggero Raimondi (Bass),
Christine Barbaux (Soprano),
Pascal Thomas (Bass),
Nadine Denize (Mezzo Soprano)
Herbert von Karajan
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,
Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1893-1902; France
Date of Recording: 12/1978
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Berlin, West Germany
Length: 162 Minutes 58 Secs.
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