Debussy - Pelléas et Mélisande

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday February 19 2014

Conductor: Louis Langrée. Production and sets: Stéphane Braunschweig. Costumes: Thibault Vancraenenbroeck. Lighting: Marion Hewlett. Pelléas: Phillip Addis. Mélisande: Karen Vourc'h. Golaud: Laurent Alvaro. Arkel: Jérôme Varnier. Geneviève: Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo. Yniold: Dima Bawab. Un médecin, Le berger, Luc Bertin-Hugault. Accentus chorus. Orchestre des Champs-Élysées.

Debussy
This is a revival of the Opéra Comique's 2010 production of Pelléas, which I wrote up at the time. I don't, therefore, need to describe the production again. It was after that evening that, at a friend's suggestion, I adopted the present name of my blog. But, like every time - which is why nobody should take any of these reports to heart - this time it was different. Very different, as unusally, I was on the front row, three feet from the pit with an ear, nose and throat specialist's view of the singers' tonsils.

Though many or most people seem to find Debussy's music beautiful, I usually find it, overall, pasty, pastel, rambling and formless - yet sinister: gloomy and grim and dismal and depressing as a month of drizzly Sundays. This is my loss, I don't doubt (and there's no need to click on "Comment" to call me a stupid, arrogant, bitter cunt: you've already told me that, several times). In this case, thrust practically  into the midst of the musicians, while (paraphrasing Beecham) I admittedly don't "get" Debussy, I absolutely loved the noise he made on the Champs Elysées' "HIP" instruments: richly timbred and colourful, yet not, even at close range, overpowering. And being thrust, as well, practically among the singers, I found it easy to be convinced - as far as anyone can be convinced by this whacky story of an Addams family without a sense of humour - by the detailed, committed, convincing acting. The lighthouses and child's play that I wasn't keen on before were still there; but being so close up, the lack of action I complained of in 2010 was made up for by the fascination of individual acting skills - not that I or (I checked) those with me care one bit for the characters or what happens to them.

Though the Golaud wasn't the same singer, once again it became Golaud's show. Laurent Alvaro seems to have found the role of his life, playing a particularly tortured (yet charismatic) prince and singing with great subtlety. At any rate, I found his use of a very smoky pianissimo extremely effective, while his outbursts were not, as I seem to remember they might have been in the past, overbearing.

Getting the ring back
Pelléas and Mélisande were the same, but have matured from teenagers into adults. Addis still has the smiling charm that makes him the only reasonably likeable, near-normal character in the otherwise exasperating, unsympathetic bunch; Vourc'h is now a woman and could no longer be taken for a mere girl. Their vocal performances have simply matured with them. I don't think anyone could fault them.

The part of Geneviève suits Sylvie Brunet to a tee. For the first time, her distinctive timbre reminded me - very gratifyingly - of Dame Janet Baker. They were all so fluent that even Jérôme Varnier seemed a touch stiff in comparison, but perhaps the role and the way it was played in this production were reasons for that. And Dima Bawab manages somehow to make Le Petit Ignoble's "petit" this and "petit" that nearly tolerable, for once.

So this was probably my best Pelléas yet, and I should think Pelléas-lovers loved it. We stayed after the interval.

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