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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Pélleas et Melisande

Is it a fairy tale, or a nightmare of domestic violence?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Melisande at her well. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
Lovers of French impressionist music and post-Wagnerian drama should run, not walk to this one.  This is one of the essential revivals of the winter. Pélleas is one of the greatest French works of the 20th century and a true test of the mettle of music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

What is Pélleas et Melisande
This is a five act French opera by Claude Debussy, the Impressionist composer's only completed effort in the field. It is done rarely, but it is a marvelous and inventive score that insinuates itself into the listener's subconscious with its hypnotic, shifting textures.

What's the story?
Hunting in a forest, Prince Golaud meets and falls in love with the mysterious princess Melisande. Except when they arrive at the Kingdom of Allemonde, she falls in love with his brother. Things take a tragic turn. Pelleas is killed (offstage) by Golaud. Melisande dies soon after, in circumstances as mysterious as her arrival.

Tell me something else interesting?
The opera is based on a play by Maurice Maeterlinck, a symbolist poet. "Melisande" is also the name of one of Bluebeard's wives, so one may only speculate what circumstances caused her to flee to the forest in the first place.

What's the music like?
Claude Debussy was the father of French impressionism, replacing conventional music with gauzy tones and melodies that whisper and growl at the ear but charm the listener. This opera lacks arias. Like the middle works of Wagner, everything is in the dialogue and interaction between two, maybe three characters in a series of  fifteen scenes. With the exception of one choir of offstage sailors, there are no conventional choruses or ensembles In other words, great singing actors are required.

Who's in it?
A stellar cast of young artists. Paul Appleby and Isabel Leonard sing the wisp-weighted title roles. Kyle Ketelsen is Golaud. Veteran bass Ferrucio Furlanetto sings the key role of King Arkel. Four of the performances are conducted by new Met music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and one is led by Derrick Inouye.

How's the production?
This revival of a Jonathan Miller production transports the action to a big, spooky house in the 19th century, an appropriately Gothic atmosphere for this fairy tale of love, jealousy, and a marriage gone horribly awry.

When does Pélleas et Melisande open?
The show opens for a short run of just five performances on Jan. 15, 2019.

Is there a Live in HD broadcast planned?
No, and more's the pity.

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save some money on service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza.

Box office hours are: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.


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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.