Pelléas is Stefan Herheim’s Directorial Debut at Glyndebourne

02/07/2018

 Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 [2] – Debussy, Pelléas et Mélisande: Soloists, Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Robin Ticciati (conductor). Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Sussex, 30.7.2018. (CC)

2018 Glyndebourne Festival’s Pelléas et Mélisande (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Cast:

Pelléas – John Chest
Mélisande – Christina Gansch
Golaud – Christopher Purves
Geneviève – Karen Cargill
Arkel – Brindley Sherratt/Richard Wiegold
Yniold – Chloé Briot
Doctor – Michael Mofidian
Shepherd – Michael Wallace

Production:

Director – Stefan Herheim
Designer – Philipp Fürhofer
Costumes – Anja Vang Kragh
Lighting – Stefan Herheim & Tony Simpson
Dramaturg – Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach

This Pelléas marks Stefan Herheim’s directorial debut for Glyndebourne. He has a stated intent to make people rethink familiar operas, as his Verdi Les vêpres siciliennes in 2017 at the Royal Opera attested: see review. Initially, this Pelléas was to have been set in a space station (an extension of his belief that, for this opera, one needs to step back, much as the characters on stage are often distanced from each other emotionally. It would have been, clearly, an idea alien to many). The space idea sadly rejected – it is intriguing, to say the least – Herheim moved an awful lot closer to home for inspiration. Just a few metres from the opera house itself, in fact, to Glyndebourne’s Organ Room, in a replica of which the entire drama is set, thanks to designer Philipp Fürhofer. The paintings we see on stage are locatable in the actual room, for example. And although perspective shifts through movable walls, the Organ Room is the space in which we stay. The water present in the story, and universal symbol symbol of the unconscious, is found through a trapdoor in the centre of the stage, but even that fluidity is hidden from us. Water, when suggested at all, is suggested via projected sparklings above a hole in the ground. At one point a bunch of somewhat merry Glyndebourne opera-goers turn up, in a gesture that smells a little of the tourists that invade the Egyptian ruins at the end of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten.

Symbols layer upon an already symbol-drenched score here. We see Christ with a lamb (think Glyndebourne sheep, obviously: a morphing of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the perfect English pastoralism of the opera house, and referring to Arkel’s idea of Mélisande as something of a local Saviour herself, perhaps, ushering in a new and more hopeful era for the assembled characters). Cast members frequently put their hands in front of their eyes, simulating blindness, a metaphor for loss of clarity, perhaps; or perhaps we are all blind; or blindly led by an inevitability of fate.

The clean, straight lines of the organ room, however, create a striking dissonance with Debussy’s inspired, fluid writing. While one might hope that such dissonance is a fruitful and stimulating one, in reality the resulting incongruity is difficult to dislodge. Perhaps that discomfort is part of Herheim’s point, perhaps not, but the real issue is that it is difficult to enter Debussy’s impeccably manifested musical world, despite the miracles going on in the pit from the LPO under Robin Ticciati.

Early on we see a table holding a dead body (Pelléas?). Golaud is shown as a nasty piece of work from the start, his jealousy omnipresent rather than triggered by the ring saga. At several points he looks down from the organ console, observing. There’s some gratuitous and uncomfortable incest between Golaud and Yniold. Pelléas’ ghost has a part to play in the concluding scene.

We have a female Yniold, the fresh-voiced Chloé Briot. While trebles are a rarity to be cherished (Boulez used one in his CBS set), Herheim manages to get double-bubble in his reading, wherein Yniold can transform into a second Mélisande, complete with long hair. Although, in the spirit of ‘fluidity’ of production, that hair is here hardly the super-long variety the piece demands.

Christina Gansch (Mélisande) & John Chest (Pelléas) (c) Richard Hubert Smith

There are more surprises for the unsuspecting (the list is long) but the main point is that the concept feels tacked-on. The performance itself was another matter; it should be noted that Brindley Sherratt was vocally – if not bodily indisposed – and walked the part as Arkel, with Richard Wiegold singing from the side. Most impressive of all was Christina Gansch’s delicate Mélisande, perfectly judged vocally, flexible, light yet not insubstantial, a veritable glittering light in the Impressionist forest. Sorry, room. Her stage presence, too, was remarkable. Although I was massively taken by Purves’ Handel extravaganza at Milton Court with Archangelo in January, he seemed less at ease here at first as Golaud, his French not always idiomatic; it was only later we heard his full dramatic power. John Chest, an American baritone and finalist in the 2017 Cardiff Singer of the World, was a splendid Pelléas, able to project the impetuous nature of his character well. Karen Cargill was an impressive presence as Geneviève, her voice luscious, while Richard Wiegold sang Arkel with real confidence and heft (Sherratt mimed well onstage). Michael Wallace was an excellent Shepherd (dressed as a cleric, more Lamb of God analogy, the Lord is your shepherd, etc.?); Michael Mofidian was a fine Doctor.

I do wonder if a rematch might bring forth hidden depths. It will, certainly, bring forth more analogies, sleights and maybe just more plain battiness. It would also, though, offer another chance to revel in the superb performances from the members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the true heroes and heroines of the evening.

Colin Clarke

For more about GFO click here.

Comments

Comments

  1. Alan Munro says:

    How interesting to read this review after reading MB on the Boulezian website.

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Sergei Polunin and Friends at London Palladium 28 May – 1 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Elgar Festival in Worcester from 30 May to 2 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! YOUNG RUSSIAN PIANIST ALEXANDRA DOVGAN TALKS TO GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month