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Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande

Anne Sophie Duprels (Mélisande), Palle Knudsen (Pelléas)
Golaud – Alan Opie
Arkel – Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Geneviève – Anne Mason
Yniold – Eoghan McNelis
Doctor / Shepherd – Nicholas Lester

City of London Sinfonia/Brad Cohen

director Olivia Fuchs
set designer Yannis Thavoris
costume designer Yannis Thavoris
lighting designer Colin Grenfell

Holland Park Theatre, Kensington, London 16 June 2010

On a perfect summer evening there was much to relish in this production, which had an unfortunate premiere in dreadful weather conditions - but even on a fine day you need to be prepared for it to get cold before the end.

Leaving aside the sillinesses of the staging - wobbly platform, like one of those physio balance training apparatuses; perilously steep walkway for aged Arkel, etc, I would like to concentrate on a few positives.

I had no problem with Yannis Thavoris' general abstraction of design, and a few scenes were staged to perfection, especially in Act 3. Having ridiculed Tosca's back-flip suicide at ENO, we admired Olivia Fuchs' way to make Mélisande's hair fall to just within Pelléas's reach. The following sequence between Golaud & Pelléas was riveting, but the spell was completely broken by the grotesque miscasting of an oversized Yniold (was Louis Watkins in two earler performances more convincing?). There must be many boy singers in London who could have filled the bill more suitably?

Alan Opie's horrific descent into paranoia, wife beater and fratricidal maniac was duly gripping, but I was most moved of all by the wonderful Brian Bannantyne-Scott, winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Prize 1981 (!), a great Arkel.

Which leaves final comments about the scene shifters who intruded on the action as choreographed pillow-waving commentators during Debussy's orchestral interludes. [a corps de ballet of girls in nighties, who drive you to distraction and rage. Guardian]

Those were intended to serve as visual pauses for contemplation between his chosen Maeterlinck scenes, set one note to a syllable in a "continuous, fluid cantilena, somewhere between chant and recitative".

I doubt that an Opera Holland Park audience is incapable of listening to those interludes without distracting stage action?

There are two good reasons why they should have been allowed to try; first, an opportunity to watch and admire the magnificent orchestra which sounded better being not hidden in an opera pit as usual.

Second, if a visual focus is wanted, Brad Cohen, standing tall, is one of relatively few conductors whose gestures are so consonant with the music as to almost constitute a visual commentary and enhancement of what we hear [The singing is wonderful, the conducting and playing disciplined, delicate, opulent - - a magnificent achievement: a symphonic score played as chamber music. Independent on Sunday].

The score of Pelléas et Mélisande is one that never palls on repeated hearing [q.v. - - the magic of the opera exerted its incomparable power over me once again Telegraph]

Overall, this was a thought-provoking evening at the opera, one we were glad not to have missed.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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production photos: Fritz Curzon