- Pelléas et Mélisande, opera in 5 acts, L. 88 - Claude Debussy - Claude Debussy - English National Opera Chorus - Mark Elder - Neil Howlett - English National Opera Orchestra - Sean Rea - John Tomlinson - Sarah Walker - Robert Dean - Eilene Hannan - Lemuel Francis Abbott - Rosanne Brackenridge
Debussy: Pelléas and Mélisandeby Robert Dean
Chandos' courageous and innovative series Opera in English has successfully tackled some of the most translation-resistant operas in the repertoire, such as "Dialogues des Carmélites" and operas by Janácek, but "Pelléas et Mélisande" represents a challenge of another order. Debussy's setting of the text is so driven by the natural inflections of the French language that a performance in translation seems almost sacrilegious, if not downright impossible to pull off persuasively. This translation by Hugh MacDonald is successful, though. It requires some fiddling with Debussy's vocal lines, but it's minimally intrusive and is done without disrupting the musical fabric, and it flows naturally. Unless one is absolutely fluent in the language in which an opera is written, hearing it in one's native language (when done as well as Chandos' versions are) almost inevitably increases rather than diminishes the opera's dramatic impact. (It also depends on the quality of the libretto; a silly libretto is going to sound even sillier in English and perhaps the listener is better off being in the dark about what exactly is being sung.) But happily, "Pelléas" does work beautifully in this adroit and even poetic translation. The recording comes from a broadcast of a live 1981 performance at the London Coliseum, so the balance is less than ideal and there is some extraneous audience and stage noise. There are also minor cuts in several of the interludes. Mark Elder's reading may be somewhat short on poetry, but it is well-shaped and dramatically charged. The performance emphasizes the brashness and brutality of much of the music, which conductors generally tend to downplay, and the result is thrillingly visceral. The English National Opera Orchestra plays with idiomatic understanding and focused intensity but its sound tends to be on the bright side, particularly in the prominence of the upper strings. Most of the scenes are set at night or at twilight or in enclosed spaces, and Debussy's scoring reflects the darkness of the settings; even though the orchestra's timbre doesn't always capture the sense of mystery that infuses much of the opera its performance has a surging Wagnerian grandeur that allows the listener to experience it in a new light. The singers are consistently fine and all inhabit their roles with fervor. Baritone Robert Dean portrays Pelléas not as a passive introvert but as an impetuous lover; he's a character about whom Golaud might reasonably have anxiety as a rival. He and Neil Howlett as Golaud both come across as passionate and anguished, and the emphasis on their similarity rather than their differences lends the production an intriguing, dramatic twist. Eilene Hannan is a lovely, sweet-voiced Melisande, convincing and touching. Sarah Walker and John Tomlinson are effective as Geneviève and Arkel. Rosanne Brackenridge is entirely convincing as the boy Yniold, which is no small achievement. This may not be the only recording of "Pelléas" a listener would want to own, but the strength of the gripping performances and the novelty and success of the translation make it a version that should be of strong interest to English-speaking fans of the opera.
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsRobert Dean Primary Artist
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