A beguiling beauty

Palleas cast

Pelléas et Mélisande

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


IF ever the word beguiling was fitting for a theatrical work then this brilliantly executed and visually absorbing production of Pelléas et Mélisande by Welsh National Opera is totally worthy of it.

Beguiling not only in the sense that the cast are so completely in control of their own skills, but also in the way that director David Pountney has made sense of this mysterious tale of deep feminine attraction.

This, being Debussy’s only opera, is therefore incomparable, yet within it are his unmistakeable motifs of sweeping yet delicate emotions that support Maurice Maeterlinck's Symbolist play and text so beautifully. Its creation from the original idea to its first rehearsals in 1902, took almost ten years to mature with Debussy and Maeterlinck fighting fiercely and publically over its production. So bitter was the argument that the playwright, Maeterlinck, disowned it and never saw the finished work until two years after Debussy’s death.

I feel both would have been immensely proud of this current production in that technically it enhances every element of the original play with a level of dramatic content that is equal, musically, and a score which envelops the action with a sense of understanding of every emotional element.

The stage opens to a huge industrial-like set of metal gantries, ladders, hanging chains and a central spiral staircase and tower. Beneath it are real pools of water which are effective in supporting so much of the story and the shallow water also has a unique ability to transform the performance and the performers. The lighting by Mark Jonathan adds greatly to all of this with moving lights appearing to animate thePelléas et Mélisande hanging chains and huge splits in the backdrop, creating stars or distant sunlight.

First a mythical horned beast walks slowly thru this harsh landscape, watched over by female figures high up on the metal framework. Then from beneath its long cape is deposited a white cocoon from which emerges Mélisande.

She is found by a huntsman, Prince Golaud a recent widower, who has lost his way and whilst she is confused at her own being there, he eventually convinces her to be allowed into his care.

Jurgita Adamonyté  as Mélisande and Jacques Imbrailo as Pelléas in a fateful embrace

After their marriage he finally takes her back to the castle of his grandfather, King Arkel of Allemonde. While there, Pelléas, Golaud’s half-brother, becomes intoxicated by her presence and falls deeply in love with her leading to his tragic demise.

Mélisande is played by Jurgita Adamonyte and her performance is outstanding not only for its beautiful singing but also for her poise and occasional moments of sheer athletism. At one point, after drenching herself in the cleansing waters, she runs at full speed and leaps into the arms of Pelléas who catches her and the pair fall into an erotic embrace. Jacques Imbralio as Paellas, matches her for his physical strength and musical intensity, as his character transforms  from the weak ` strange ‘ boy people are familiar with, into an uncontrollable figure of lust , willing to risk his life just to be with his love Mélisande.

In contrast to this is the powerful solid aura of Christopher Purves as Golaud. His love for Mélisande is one of duty and responsibility, seeing her as a part of a household and a serving wife. It is this lack of understanding of youthful beguiling love that inspires his rage and jealousy, seeking to understand that what he does not feel. This performance again was controlled and timed beautifully, turning from the weary husband into the murderous yet regretful monster he finally becomes.

There are also excellent solid performances from Leah- Marion Jones as Genevieve, Scott Wilde as King Arkel and Rebecca Bottone as the fearful young Yniold.

Pountney clearly has found some unique ways in his direction to make sense of all of this. The tower scene is brilliantly realised as Mélisande, high on the gantry, lowers her hair for Pelléas to fondle. Pelléas is seated some distance away but surrounded by three serving females draping their long flowing locks over him while he sings.

Then at Mélisandes final death, maidens in black with veils arrive to literally wrap her soul in the black veils of death, leaving her imagined body behind , only then for her to be delivered again into the forest for another loveless male to find.

Overall this opera is an experience that keeps giving long after the curtain falls. The combination of outstanding performances against a brilliantly designed setting, fused then by the sensitivity and beauty of Debussy’s score, guided by the hands of the experienced director Lothar Koenigs, make it worthy of the highest accolades and one definitely not to be missed.

Jeff Grant




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