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Archive for October, 2018

This evening’s performance is the first time I’ve seen a fully staged Pelléas et Mélisande and I finally realize how difficult a job it is for the director. First, almost every scene has its own setting. Second, the libretto is really wordy and more often than not singers must remain on stage for a long time while someone else sings. Third, you can’t have a soprano as Yniold. 

I wouldn’t have guessed that the staging’s shortcomings would be so distracting for the musical experience. I have seen many poorly directed performances of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, but the music itself offers some sort of “safe place” where one can take refuge while the eyes have to go through what is going on stage. With Pelléas this seems not to be necessarily so.

At first, Iacov Hillel’s production for the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo looks intriguing enough in Hélio Eichbauer’s Wieland Wagner-ian sets, but one doesn’t take long to see that the “empty space” is filled with extremely banal Personenrégie. All actions are taken in face value and the ambiguity so dear to Maeterlinck and Debussy is reduced to Walt Disney’s depth. Not to mention the moments of kitsch and nonsense (like people opening imaginary windows or saying that they are near when they are 10 meters away). The handling of imaginary objects is particularly bothersome when the placement of the actual props on stage was so cumbersome and noisy. There were moments where I couldn’t help wishing this was a concert version.

Rosana Lamossa is a name I would have expected in the role of Mélisande 15 years ago. Although she still looks young enough, her whole attitude is now too ladylike and poised for it. Her Cotrubas-like shimmering soprano is still appealing, but her break in her low register is now abrupt and forced. The result is that many passages that should sound seductive and feminine come across as shrewish and gutsy. That said, she was still the most interesting singer on stage in terms of tone coloring and imagination. Her Pelléas, Chinese baritone Yunpeng Wang displayed a dark-toned yet perfectly focused voice, healthy and firm all the way. And the singer phrased with absolute cleanliness and commendable French pronunciation. But no nuance. He sang his last note just the same healthy and firm way as he did every other note in his part. American baritone Stephen Bronk too sang in impeccable style and dramatic engagement. At moments his singing suggested that he knows his José Van Dam’s recordings, but at this point in his career he works hard for projection and tires easily – and was often overpowered by his Pelléas. 

Lidia Schäffer was a most efficient Géneviève, but the Arkel was frankly inadequate. I felt shortchanged when I realized that Andrey Mira’s extra-rich bass was wasted in the small part of the doctor. Understandably, Yniold’s scene with the rock was cut. 

Alessandro Sangiorgi’s view of Debussy’s score is very objective and forward moving, a wise choice considering the orchestra at his service. When things start to take a more dramatic turn though, one expects an increase in tension that never came to happen. In more atmospheric performances, this can be portrayed in a more “metaphysical way”, provided that an endless supply of orchestral coloring is to be heard. And more inspired singing too.

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