Pelléas et Mélisande

West Edge Opera's Pelléas et Mélisande

Weo-pandm2018 * Notes * 
Nomadic West Edge Opera is performing this summer in yet another alternative space, this time in Richmond at the Craneway Conference Center, once a Ford plant. The opening show is Debussy's very wonderfully weird Pelléas et Mélisande. The music is utterly beautiful, the singing was very good, and the production sleek and inventive.

The Craneway is right on the water, and has a glorious view of San Francisco. The building houses the Rosie the Riveter Museum, as it was the site of shipyards with female workers during World War II. A space upstairs was transformed into a theater with much black fabric, platforms, and extensive structures for lighting, which needed its own generator as the building's electrical system was inadequate for this. Unlike previous venues in the last few years, this one does have running water and real bathrooms.

Director Keturah Stickann, very much in keeping with this opera company, did a lot with very little, and her production worked incredibly well. The set (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver), designed by Chad Owens, is a wall with five openings, and it was impressive how these were used as places to project onto screens or serve as doors or bring in props to the scene. The costumes had a medieval look but were often festooned with rivets.

Maestro Jonathan Khuner kept the small orchestra together, and created a big sound. The singing was lovely. Mezzo-soprano Kendra Broom is an otherworldly Mélisande, her high notes soar and her low ones are deeply rooted. She also was mysterious and nymph-like in her acting. Her Pelléas, tenor David Blalock, may have been a bit more wooden, but his voice is bright and strong. In contrast, baritone Efraín Solís truly embodied the role of Golaud. From grave and sad to crazed and jealous, Solís was completely convincing, and he sounded great, very warm and sympathetic.

* Tattling * 
There were technical difficulties with one of the four supertitle screens which made the opera start late. It was not resolved and those in that area had to move to see the titles.

A young woman in Row D 26 took a picture of Act III, Scene 1, when Mélisande's hair spilled out of the tower. The young man behind her texted. The woman next to me fell asleep during an intense moment of the opera in Act II.

I wish I could go to this opera again, there are two more performances on August 12 and 17, but am overbooked and will be out of town.


Pelléas et Mélisande at Unter den Linden

Pelleas* Notes *
This season's final performance of Pelléas et Mélisande at Staatsoper Unter den Linden was last Wednesday. The 1991 production, the work of one Ruth Berghaus, is truly absurd. Hartmut Meyer's set and costumes were both contributed to the folly. The set consists of a downstage mound with a hole in it, which served as both the fountain Mélisande is found at, and the well in which she loses her ring in later. Upstage the sets could be changed, and this worked well for the different scenes. One of the sets included a steep staircase with rather small steps, instead of having Mélisande in a window at the top of a tower, she simply sat at the top of the stairs. None of the singers sounded as good on this staircase as they did down below, I am not sure if it was because of the acoustics, as the staircase had walls and was more upstage, or because of the steep incline which looked difficult to stay on. The costumes were quite silly: Golaud and Pelléas both looked like button mushrooms in their wide caps and long coats, Mélisande wore her petticoat with the waistline just beneath the breasts, so also looked like a mushroom of a different sort. Mélisande's hair was not long, which worried me a great deal, as she has that window scene in which Pelléas is supposedly wrapped in her tresses.

However, the sets and costumes were not nearly as ludicrous as the staging. For instance, when Mélisande play with her wedding ring at the well, she just throws it in, and puts her hands behind her back. This got the biggest laugh all evening. Or in the aforementioned hair combing in the window scene, Mélisande takes off her wig and Pelléas rubs it on himself. Basically he brings the wig to crotch-level and humps it. It was extremely hilarious. Golaud was made to flap his arms as he walked, and when he kills Pelléas, he casually walks by, sees his brother kissing his wife beneath him, and stabs downward but once and flaps on away. The worst might have been the scene before Pelléas dies in which Golaud and Pelléas' grandfather Arkel asks to kiss Mélisande on the cheek or brow. Instead of being innocent, Arkel molests Mélisande, and the scene is extremely disturbing.

The orchestra sounded wonderful under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle, the musicians were very much together. However, at times, they were much too loud, and they overwhelmed every single singer at one point or another. Andreas Mörwald, a soloist from the Tölzer Knabenchor, sang beautifully as Yniold. Hanno Müller-Brachmann was better as Leporello in the concurrent production of Don Giovanni than here. He was fine as Golaud, but his singing did not betray much emotion. Robert Lloyd sounded strong as Arkel, and his singing at the end was especially grand. It was difficult to hear how lovely Willam Burden's voice is, he was quiet as Pelléas, and was the most often overwhelmed by the orchestra. Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená was most impressive in the role of Mélisande, her volume and tone were both excellent. 

* Tattling *
The second tier is not quite as warm as the third, but still not all that comfortable. For the most part, the audience was quiet, though there was a mobile phone ring during Arkel's aria at the end. This was the first performance I sat off to one side, to the left in this case. One is closer to the stage and can make out the faces well, but some of the stage is certainly obscured, due to the shape of the building. I sat next to a young man possibly from the French-speaking part of Switzerland or Belgium, which I learned from a conversation in German between him and a German woman who took the empty seat next to him at intermission. They discussed the performance, and it was said that the production was rather artificial. At one point the German woman asked if he knew that a "Berliner" is a sort of pastry.