Review Roundup: PELLEAS ET MELISANDE at the Glyndebourne Festival

Stefan Herheim, one of Europe's most exciting directors, makes his company debut with Glyndebourne's first new production of Pelléas in nearly 20 years.

A mysterious woman, a forbidden love, a family torn apart.

When Prince Golaud meets the mysterious Mélisande, he falls instantly in love with this beautiful, broken girl. So does his brother Pelléas. Cloaked in the darkness of the shadowy kingdom of Allemonde, this passionate love triangle unfolds in hints and suggestions, glimpses and glances, elusive right up to its tragic conclusion.

Sharing the sensuous, dreamlike soundworld of Debussy's La Mer and Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune, Pelléas et Mélisande celebrates the colour and power of the contemporary orchestra in an evocative score, rich in human emotion. 'Forget you are singers,' Debussy told his original cast, and the result is a musical drama whose instinctive truths speak straight to the heart - a delicate fairytale that whispers where other operas shout.

Stefan Herheim, makes his Glyndebourne debut with a bold staging that promises to cut to the core of this timeless, symbolist tale, reimagining the story from a fresh perspective.

The cast includes Christopher Purves, Christina Gansch, Karen Cargill, Brindley Sherratt, John Chest, Chloé Briot, Michael Mofidian, and Michael Wallace.

The production is now on stage through August 9th. For tickets visit:

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Richard Morrison, The Times: It is superbly acted, artfully lit, beautifully choreographed. And that word is not too pretentious to describe how the protagonists in Glyndebourne's new production of Debussy's symbolist opera drift round each other, a ménage à trois whose passions ebb and flow on quicksands of infatuation and deception, evasion and jealousy.

Zachary Woolfe, NY Times: I wish there had been more strange yet evocative coups of this sort in Mr. Herheim's polished-looking, well-executed, not-quite-persuasive production. His constellation of associations - Glyndebourne's history, the interplay of the visual and sonic arts, the whisper of war - doesn't quite come together. No "Pelléas" should be expected entirely to cohere, and I admire Mr. Herheim's confidence in layering mystery atop mystery. The trouble isn't just that his work here is confusing; it's scattered and wan. (Never wan, though, is Robin Ticciati and the London Philharmonic Orchestra's lush, often lurid performance of the score.)

Nick Kimberley, Go London: The opera's text, faithfully adapting Maurice Maeterlinck's 1893 play, details the settings that make up the troubled domain called "Allemonde" - roughly, "anywhere and everywhere". Philipp Fürhofer's set evokes rather than delineates those locations, which in any case are products of a fin-de-siècle Symbolist imagination. The problem is that Herheim inserts his own symbolist add-ons; some add texture, others merely underline or undermine what is in the text.

David Nice, The Arts Desk: The ultimate problem is not only that Herheim doesn't know when to let a clever idea go, having made its point, but that he only half-tells it. It's like seeing a play or opera in a foreign language without supertitles where you only get glimpses of what it's all about. And that's a level of mystery very different from Debussy's or Materlinck's. First-time viewers must have been even more baffled.

Andrew Clements, The Guardian: Even Christina Gansch's Mélisande, beautifully sung, and catching the balance between ethereal mystery and passionate involvement perfectly, is kept at arm's length, while the baritone Pelléas, John Chest, seems to move a little too easily from the shy gaucheness of his first appearance to his willing complicity with Mélisande. But Christopher Purves's Golaud is the main casualty of the approach. In most productions of Pelléas it's possible to feel pity for Golaud without condoning his actions, but there's little chance of that here, as he seems to move farther out of focus as the opera goes on and his insane jealousy increases. By the end he has become just a husk, barely responsible for his actions but also hard to place in the final tragedy, which almost seems to be orchestrated by Brindley Sherratt's Arkel, though on the first night Sherratt had a throat infection and walked through the role, while it was sung rather formidably from beside the stage by Richard Wiegold. Karen Cargill's wonderfully rich-toned Geneviève has little to do, alas, while Yniold is sung by a soprano, Chloé Briot; given that he becomes a surrogate for Mélisande in Herheim's reading, that's no bad thing.

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