DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

Pelléas et Mélisande (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

Cast: Jacques Imbroallo – Pelléas/ Michaela Selinger – Mélisande/ Vincent Le Texler – Goloud
Performers: Essener Philharmoniker/ Opernchor des Aalto-Theaters/Stefan Soltesz
Video Director: Marcus Richardt
Studio: Art Haus Musik/ Unitel Classica 108086 (Distr. by Naxos) 
Video: 16:9 HD 1080i color
Audio: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Korean
Region: Worldwide
Length: 180 minutes
Rating: ****

An intriguing experience. I was always wanting to see Pelleas and Melisande and now I have. This was Debussy’s reaction to the bellowing and mythical plot lines of Wagner’s operas, and has the characters speaking in a voice that is ordinary and very human, quite realistic. The story is fairly straightforward and not about Norse and Germanic gods and goddesses. Debussy’s only opera was based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, which searches the souls of the various characters with subtle nuances. Don’t look for whistleable melodies and big climaxes in this opera. The simple sets among which they perform are dusky, dark and quite stark. There are constant lyrics about trees and fountains when we see none. I guess the limited Essen budget didn’t allow for a better-looking baby in the final scene or an alternative to the wildly-contrasting long hair that Mélisande lets down from her window perch. Also, when Mélisande has supposedly died the camera goes in for a closeup and she flutters her eyelashes.

Debussy’s sensualist colors come thru, and the vocalists are excellent, especially lyric tenor Jacques Imbroallo as Pelléas. The characters in the story are shown to be in a sort of inescapable solitude in the moldy castle and its environments. Mélisande, the girl from nowhere, is loved by both the elder Golaud and his half-brother, the younger Pelléas. Golaud quickly succumbs to a jealously that verges on madness, and his actions result in the death of not only Pelléas, but also Mélisande and later himself. Golaud repeatedly sings that their relationship is like children.

The Blu-ray transfer is excellent, though I think an alternative to the very long stretches of blue screen between scenes would have been a good one.  it does give us an opportunity to hear Debussy’s instrumental music between scenes, and I liked the rather extensive descriptions of what was coming next that appear onscreen in English between scenes. [Note: The cover art online (shown here) differs from that on the Blu-ray sent us for review.]

—John Sunier

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