BWW Review: PELLEAS ET MELISANDE at Metropolitan Opera
SPECTACULAR OPENING NIGHT FOR Pélleas et Mélisande AT THE MET!
Pélleas et Mélisande last night was hands down the best thing the Met has done this season. No arias, no duets, no trios, no choruses, just ravishing melodies bathed in some of the most complex web-like, ethereal harmonies.
The much-anticipated revival of Jonathan Miller's creepy 1995 production was the second opera helmed by music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (who had only conducted the opera once before, nearly two decades ago). The maestro was up to the challenge and then some. A slightly younger and more age-appropriate cast of singers brought a tremendous immediacy to the ageless, timeless mythical kingdom of Allemonde (German-world?). The mammoth set - a gothic style mansion on a revolving stage, keeps the inertia of the slow-moving plot forward-leaning. The sets presented a dire, austere world beset with cold sadness. It remains extremely effective if somewhat banal and occasionally dwarfing the intimacy of the story.
Musically, it was clear from the very first notes that Maestro Nézet-Séguin was in complete control of his orchestra's considerable forces. The strings were glimmering from start to finish - and a quick chat with some of them during the first intermission revealed a group of seasoned veterans ebullient with the joy of children at playing this score, and that passion and joy came across in spades. The voices in the score are often doubled in the orchestra and it can be a delicate balance to keep from overpowering the singers, but Maestro Nézet-Séguin showed that he was in his wheel-house during these passages.
Isabel Leonard was born to sing Mélisande, aside from a single rough patch early in the evening, she delivered a glowingly incandescent performance. She gracefully moved from the enigmatic lost girl in the opening scene, to the troubled, deeply sad wife, to the playful young woman in her scenes with Pelléas. Her solo moment at the beginning of Act three was positively riveting. She delivered every phrase with great nuance, shaping each line - each thought - with appropriate color and emotion, drawing the entire audience into Mélisande's deeply tormented heart.
For decades, Jose Van Dam owned the role of Golaud at the Met, but Kyle Ketelson in his role debut was nothing short of astonishing, commanding the stage in every scene. His take on the troubled prince was less noble and more human than most generally seen. His voice and acting were stentorian and powerful. His pain, as poured out in his plaintively beautiful singing, was palpable and convincing.
Paul Appleby's Pélleas was bright and sweet initially before falling into a deep longing melancholy. Mr Appleby started the evening in fantastic voice, clear and robust. His portrayal was spot on, at first distant and aloof, before becoming more and more animated and alive as his forbidden passion for his brother's wife became apparent. Mr. Appleby's tone got a bit harsh and his production forced in the final scenes, whether a choice or simply a singer running out of gas, they were his only weak moments in an otherwise wonderful performance.
As Mélisande escapes the drudgery and sadness of her marriage by spending more and more time innocently (?) galivanting about with her young brother-in-law: Ms. Leonard's portrayal grew in depth and pathos. While at the same time, Mr. Ketelson's Golaud fell deeper and deeper into paranoia and jealousy.
Mélisande's death was stunning. The audience fell silent (no mean feat at Met!) holding their breath with anticipation - even managing to hold their thunderous applause until the curtain came all the way down!
Special notice must be made of the ageless wonder, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. He took a role that is often a minor and supporting one into a far greater and more important presence in the story - and his earth-rumbling bass remains strong and commanding.
Make no mistake, Pélleas et Mélisande is not eveyone's cup of tea - in fact four young women siting next to me left after the second act stating rather ostentatiously: "This has got to be the most boring piece of sh*t I've ever seen." Different strokes... But for the serious operagoer, this Pélleas et Mélisande is absolutely something to rejoice over. Delivering the argument for the defense, I bumped into Anna Netrebko during the second intermission and asked her what she thought, and she effervescently said: "To be honest, I've never heard this opera before. But it is sooooooooooo beautiful!"
I'm with "Team Anna" on this one.
Additional performances: Jan 19 mat, 22, 25, 31