Debussy: Revue Pelléas et Mélisande – Roth and Les Siècles make seductive opera more miraculous than ever | Classical music
“Pelleas is unique,” says Francois-Xavier Roth in the liner notes of his new recording, “The first example of what opera was to become in the 20th and 21st centuries and what it can no longer be”. One of the turning points in the evolution of opera, Debussy’s masterpiece is already very well represented on disc, but Roth’s performance, from a production at the Lille Opera last year last, is distinguished from all its predecessors by the presence of the period instruments of Centuries in the pit.
In an opera whose drama depends so much on the tiniest nuances of word composition and the network of orchestral motifs that underpin it, the use of gut strings and early 20th-century woodwinds and brass adds a added dimension to the expressive palette. The gains are evident from the opening, where the dark, slow strings, playing without vibrato, evoke the atmosphere of ambiguity and veiled menace that pervades the whole work, right down to the trickle of woodwind tears with which it winds. ended.
Roth makes Debussy’s handling of orchestral color more magical than ever, and even if his orchestra lacks the tonal force of a modern band, the great climaxes, like Golaud’s outburst of rage in the third act, or the final meeting of Pelléas and Mélisande in the last scene of the fourth seem more intense than ever, while the moments of quiet lyricism are wrapped in extraordinarily delicate textures.
Due to Covid restrictions, the Lille production directed by Daniel Jeanneteau was never performed in front of a live audience (although it was streamed), and this audio recording was thus able to achieve a clarity of studio. In an opera where words matter so much, it’s a huge advantage to have an all-French cast (although Debussy apparently preferred a non-French Mélisande, to emphasize her otherworldly character). Here, each syllable is distinct. Pelléas is a role that falls between conventional categories and here it is tenor Julien Behr, contrasting perfectly with by Alexandre Duhamel baritone Golaud. Behr’s performance is quite poised even in the most ecstatic moments, while Duhamel is never overbearing either; Golaud can never be the real “hero” of this opera, but in this recording he seems to be sinning against rather than sinning, even if Vannina Santoni the velvety Mélisande also seems quite candid. The sepulchral Arkel is Jean Teitgen, the very fine Geneviève is Marie-Ange Todorovitch, while Golaud’s son, Yniold, is sung by a triple boy (Hadrien Joubert) rather than the usual adult soprano. But what matters most is the sense of true ensemble performance, which makes Debussy’s endlessly seductive score more miraculous than ever.