I was dragged screaming from work at the riducously early hour of 7:20 on friday night, by my wife, to listen to this. Being a barbarian, and knowing only that it was by Debussy, I assumed it was a concert. But no, ’tis an opera, although possibly a slightly odd one, since it is largely a transcription of Maeterlinck‘s play in which people sing lines others would just say. As the opera notes said, and wiki later confirms, this is a “symbolist” play, and we had good fun spotting “symbols”, which was most of it. For example at one point there is an odd scene in which Yniold sees the sheep not going back to their stable – gasp. If you’re a barbarian, its just a somewhat incomprehensible scene. If you’re a symbolist, though, you know that they sheep are off to the slaughterhouse, aha, definitely an omen or indeed a symbol for the ending. There is other odd stuff: at one point Golaud stabs himself (presumably to death) but in the next scene he has come back to life but Melisande is dying, and has a daughter. Ah well, perhaps there is no great need to dwell on all the perplexities, and one can simply enjoy the opera instead.
However, don’t let me spoil the story for you, if you don’t know it.
The Cambridge Student does a write-up, and is (in my not-very-well-informed opinion) properly complementary about the very high quality of the music, singing, acting and setting. Melisande, Golaud and ArkÃ«l were especially good, in that they sounded and looked superb (the phot in that link does no-one any justice; the blue cast there washes out detail, whereas most of the light was bleak white. I wish I’d taken my camera, I could have done a lot better). Pelleas suffered in my view from looking too much like Gilbert O’Sullivan. The para beginning The biggest thing which let the show down though was simply a lack of polish… is just wrong; or maybe it has got polished up a bit since the first night.
Since I’m too barbarous to fully appreciate the music (M isn’t, and did) I’ll comment on the staging and costume, which was excellent, and would have made for some superb photographs (which is why I find the accompanying one so irritatingly bad, not that I intend to harp on about it, mind you). Ash-white on Arkel; the paint-splattered dress; the spare scenery;all great and fitting.
Anyway, jolly good, go see it if you’re in Cambridge. Except you’re too late! Last night was tonight. Oh well, sorry.
Oh yes, I was going to say: and all this is thanks to my mother, who is looking after our children for a few days. So we get to be free adults for a couple of days. A b rief taste of freedom, we really don’t know what to do with it.