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Pelléas et Mélisande: A Tale of Two Visions
By Joel Kasow

BRUSSELS / LILLE - The Théâtre de la Monnaie has emphasized the provocative in its approach to opera, with variable results, since the advent of Gérard Mortier and his successor Bernard Foucroulle. One of the beneficiaries of this policy has been designer-director Herbert Wernicke, who has given us a magical Calisto, a questionable Ring, and now Pelléas et Mélisande seen through a dark blue tunnel. We enter the theater and discover that the surface of the tunnel is covered with bees (Maeterlinck wrote The Life of the Bees), that there is a blind tramp (he also wrote The Blind Men) seated against the proscenium arch who gets up and meanders around the stage when it is time for Arkel's interventions and then sits down again, that Mélisande is half-crazy to start with, which can at least be defended. She becomes totally mad during the tower scene, here played in reverse with Mélisande at the bottom of the tunnel looking up at Pelléas. She cuts off her hair and then proceeds to wind it around a branch which she has been dragging around since the start. Wernicke disregards many of the directions in the text, so that Golaud presents his wife to his mother and grandfather in a scene where his presence is not required; does he think we are incapable of following the playwright's elisions?

Fortunately Antonio Pappano presented us with an alert reading, with the customary Debussyan wash of color, all capably executed by the orchestra. Maria Bayo threw herself into Wernicke's concept wholeheartedly, physically grueling as it may have been, but that is the type of artist she is. Laurence Dale's Pelléas retains its youthfulness and is sung in impeccable French. Monte Pederson's first Golaud was monumental, literally towering over the others and singing with full tone. Franz-Josef Selig's omnipresent Arkel and Natalie Stutzmann's Geneviève were forceful presences. Only the Yniold of an inadequate youngster was a blot, with insufficient voice and confidence so that his little solo scene was omitted.

One month earlier, the Opéra de Lille participated in the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Orchestre National de Lille - Région Nord-Pas de Calais, allowing Jean-Claude Casadesus the opportunity to show the enormous progress made by his group, in a reading which may have been one of the most objective I've ever heard, soon to be available to a wide public when Naxos releases a recording made during the run of performances. A cast of young French singers was understandable throughout the theater and threw themselves into an ardent defense of a work which is not easy for the general public. Mireille Delunsch's Mélisande, hampered by a far from diaphanous costume, captured the various facets of the character. One expected more dramatically of the two men, both of whom worked with Peter Brook in Impressions de Pellé . Gérard Théruel's Pelléas too often affected a walk more appropriate to a jeune premier of the 1930s, while Armand Arapian's bulky sideways lurch bordered on the silly. Musically the proceedings were impeccable, including the Arkel of Gabriel Bacquier, Geneviève of Hélène Jossoud and particularly the Yniold of Françoise Golfier who made it perfectly clear that a professional is more effective in this role than an inexperienced child. Pier'Alli was responsible for the visual element in its entirety, his decor simple, his staging perhaps insufficiently interventionist as is often the case with those who start out on the decorative end of things.

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