Pelléas Boxed In

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lennygoran
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Pelléas Boxed In

Post by lennygoran » Tue May 09, 2017 6:09 am

Quite a rave review! Regards, Len

Music Review: Debussy’s ‘Pelléas,’ but This Time All Boxed In

By DAVID ALLEN MAY 8, 2017


CLEVELAND — “How beautiful it is in the shadows,” Pelléas sings in the climactic fourth act of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande.” How beautiful, indeed, for the lovers in the opera’s title, as well as for lovers of Debussy’s score: murky, wispy and allusive, yet somehow also touching, penetrating and direct. The opera takes its unearthly power from metaphors of blindness, from the Symbolist taste for leaving things half-said, for making things only half-clear. No wonder that productions of it so often feel half-baked.

Not Yuval Sharon’s thoughtful, moving effort for the outstanding Cleveland Orchestra, which played three performances at Severance Hall here last week. In collaborations with traditional opera companies; with orchestras here and in Los Angeles; and with his own experimental company, the Industry, this director is ambitiously reorienting the future of opera. Previously the creator here, in 2014, of a production of “The Cunning Little Vixen” that was overly reliant on projections, Mr. Sharon and his team have produced a “Pelléas” that, precisely by remaining faithful to the spirit, story and music of Debussy’s work, is an object lesson in how an orchestra can stage — properly stage — an opera.

It does so by solving the riddle of space. High above and behind the orchestra, the designer Mimi Lien (recently a Tony nominee for “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812”) places a glass box. Sometimes it’s transparent; sometimes it’s opaque with frosting; sometimes it’s translucent with mist. It variously plays host to a troupe of dancers and actors — doubling the costumes of the singers — choreographed by Danielle Agami; to cutouts of a castle or a well to set the scene; and to the lighting and projections of Jason H. Thompson. With the singers performing on platforms within the orchestra (except for King Arkel, the cavernous, noble Peter Rose, who sits on a throne near the violins), the box encases the characters’ fears, desires and emotions, all while blurring the line between their inner and outer worlds.

The visuals are striking. After the scene in which Mélisande’s long hair ensnares Pelléas, a dancer tries to grasp hold of strands of yellow light that wave across the glass. Mélisande, at one point, is accompanied by a pale halo of gold, as if she were in some medieval Marian painting. At the crucial moment when Pelléas and Mélisande may or may not consummate their love, projections, dancing and shadows complicate what we see, underscoring the foggy limits of our understanding.

Every so often, an element of additional (and, once or twice, unwelcome) interpretation peeks in, further muddying the waters. A team of hatted, trenchcoated extras enters the box at the end of Act IV, perhaps representing the detectives of Mélisande’s husband, Golaud, hunting down the lovers. There is an extended, almost incomprehensible scene in the final act for seven dancers, uncostumed and near-androgynous. And in the final moments, the dead Pelléas (anxiously, darkly sung by Elliot Madore) appears within the mists, staring down at the dying Mélisande (the pristine Martina Jankova); after she dies in turn, Mélisande walks up to the cloudy box, disappearing into — the beyond? Into — his myth? Into — what, exactly?


Another director might have provided a resolution, showing the pair dead, embracing or searching for each other. Aware of what needs to be said and what does not, Mr. Sharon declines, just as his musical understanding means that he adds nothing in visuals where Debussy provides all we need in sound. He is committed, he has written, to an “art that celebrates doubt and destabilization,” and in this “Pelléas” he is content to query, never to provoke for provocation’s sake. Do Pelléas and Mélisande do what Golaud — the magnificent Hanno Müller-Brachmann — fears they do? Are the characters in love with each other, or with images of each other? What is real, and what is not?

And to those questions, Mr. Sharon and his collaborators add another: Through all that fog, are you, in the audience, seeing what you think you’re seeing? I certainly could not believe what I was hearing. The last orchestra I heard play “Pelléas” was the Berlin Philharmonic, in a hyperactive Peter Sellars production. The Clevelanders were their equal and more, somehow achieving that perfect balance between lightness and heft, a sound neither too feathery nor too laden down. Thinking of Debussy, one usually imagines washes of color; here, impressively, rhythmic definition, even rhythmic unity, came across clearly. At moments when Mr. Sharon stepped back, the conductor, Franz Welser-Möst, stepped up to picture a scene or provide the gory details: the bleat of the sheep encountered by the child Yniold (Julie Mathevet, on charming form), for instance, and especially the sound of slicing metal, flashing with reflected light, in the second violins at the moment of Pelléas’s unseen death.
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Only the pacing felt misguided. With just one intermission, Mr. Welser-Möst took the shortest of breaks between acts. If a “Pelléas” can be impetuous, this was it: High on savagery, it was low on sympathy. A generally quick interpretation is no problem in itself, but this conductor refused to linger, to leave us time to take the sound in, to appreciate the gravity of a scene, to identify with the characters’ fate. Even at the devastating moment when Mélisande, a victim of Golaud’s violence, declares her unhappiness — to Debussy’s tenderest and most tragic music — there was no yielding. That the moment seemed so cruel provides an insight into how loving the rest of this production felt.


https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/08/arts ... ic-reviews

John F
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Re: Pelléas Boxed In

Post by John F » Tue May 09, 2017 10:20 am

Tommasini says, in effect, that Welser-Möst conducted the opera badly, and says something odd but apparently negative about the Pelléas. Not such a rave review, then. And while he likes the very odd staging, or semi-staging, I doubt that you would and am pretty sure I wouldn't.
John Francis

lennygoran
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Re: Pelléas Boxed In

Post by lennygoran » Tue May 09, 2017 1:36 pm

John F wrote:
Tue May 09, 2017 10:20 am
Tommasini says, in effect, that Welser-Möst conducted the opera badly, and says something odd but apparently negative about the Pelléas. Not such a rave review,
It was this guy-not Tommasini "By DAVID ALLEN MAY 8, 2017"

Still it was these comments from the reviewer that caught my eye. Regards, Len



1. Yuval Sharon’s thoughtful, moving effort for the outstanding Cleveland Orchestra, which played three performances at Severance Hall here last week. In collaborations with traditional opera companies; with orchestras here and in Los Angeles; and with his own experimental company, the Industry, this director is ambitiously reorienting the future of opera. ... Mr. Sharon and his team have produced a “Pelléas” that, precisely by remaining faithful to the spirit, story and music of Debussy’s work, is an object lesson in how an orchestra can stage — properly stage — an opera.

2. The visuals are striking.


3. Golaud — the magnificent Hanno Müller-Brachmann


4. The last orchestra I heard play “Pelléas” was the Berlin Philharmonic, in a hyperactive Peter Sellars production. The Clevelanders were their equal and more, somehow achieving that perfect balance between lightness and heft, a sound neither too feathery nor too laden down. Thinking of Debussy, one usually imagines washes of color; here, impressively, rhythmic definition, even rhythmic unity, came across clearly. At moments when Mr. Sharon stepped back, the conductor, Franz Welser-Möst, stepped up to picture a scene or provide the gory details: the bleat of the sheep encountered by the child Yniold (Julie Mathevet, on charming form), for instance, and especially the sound of slicing metal, flashing with reflected light, in the second violins at the moment of Pelléas’s unseen death.

John F
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Re: Pelléas Boxed In

Post by John F » Tue May 09, 2017 2:43 pm

Oops! Glad you caught that.

Of the specific points you mention, only the Mélisande, Golaud, and maybe Arkel get unreserved praise. It's not the orchestra so much as the conductor that makes the difference between a poor "Pelléas" and a great one, and Allen finds fault with Welser-Möst's conducting. His adjectives for the director and the set could just as easily apply to the trashiest production, and the specifics of Allen's description sound pretty trashy to me; as I said, I doubt that you would like it and am pretty sure I wouldn't.

The Met is reviving "Pelléas" again in 2019-20. Here's hoping that James Levine is able to conduct; as far as I'm concerned, on repeated past experience, he owns that opera. No information yet on its cast.
John Francis

lennygoran
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Re: Pelléas Boxed In

Post by lennygoran » Tue May 09, 2017 7:19 pm

John F wrote:
Tue May 09, 2017 2:43 pm
The Met is reviving "Pelléas" again in 2019-20. Here's hoping that James Levine is able to conduct; as far as I'm concerned, on repeated past experience, he owns that opera. No information yet on its cast.
Hope it's a new production-if so I'll be there-I've gotten to like the opera! Regards, Len

John F
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Re: Pelléas Boxed In

Post by John F » Tue May 09, 2017 7:54 pm

Apparently not. But if it were, odds are that it would be worse than the one they have by Jonathan Miller, which at least gives us the opera's characters and story more or less.
John Francis

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