Thursday, July 3, 2008

DVD: Glyndebourne and the Pelleas of One's Dreams


In his production for Glyndebourne Graham Vick exchanges Debussy's murky forests and casts for a massive Edwardian mansion dominated by an enormous curved staircase and a glass floor under which seem to be millions of chrysanthemums. Despite the lack of traditional locations, the story works handsomely bringing out Maeterlinck’s symbolism in sometimes astonishing fashion . . . . visually stunning, (e.g., flames silently engulfing a massive staircase, etc.)

I love Vick's work with singers and the cast here responds to him in the manner one might expect from the finest stage actors. Richard Croft's remarkable performance as Pelleas begins barefoot and in short pants establishing (for once), the character's youthful aimlessness. This image is further enhanced with the introduction of Yniold almost from the start the two playing by the water's edge. Though uncle and nephew with a wide-edged gap in ages, both are still boys.

Croft’s plangent tenor offers the role gorgeous, youthful sound, warm and bright making case can be made that this role is now best suited to a tenor, which serves also to intensify both drama and distinction between the brothers. Croft's facial expressions, his ability to swing between ecstatic exhilarated joy and crushed devastation is sensational . . . overwhelming at times. Take that voice and combine it with the physical intensity of his actions and this is clearly today's Pelleas of choice. (Maestro Boulez certainly seemed to think so, too!)

Christiane Oelze is a stunning, complicated Melisande; a bit of a natural born troublemaker. The famous "Tower scene" finds her hanging upside down from an immense chandelier, endless hair cascading from it, beneath her a supine Pelleas. As the chandelier lowers Pelleas covers himself with her hair and the scene nearly erupts into an almost unbridled show of eroticism, Pelleas barely able to control himself and Melisande leading the way. As sensual as she is physically, Oelze's voice throughout is liquid and exquisite, capturing nuances the best interpreters of this role find in it.

John Tomlinson is a rougher than usual Golaud, his bent towards violence portending trouble early on. His using Yniold to spy on the couple is chilling theatre as violently he kicks, smashing one of the glass tiles of the floor. He is nothing less than brutal in his handling of his young son. It is a terrified Yniold who flees him, hopelessly banging on the doors for someone to release him from this nightmare. Golaud's violence, of course, extends to both brother and wife, yet following each episode his remorse seems genuine and heartbreaking. Tomlinson presents a Golaud who unravels before our eyes, a man who simply cannot cope. It is chilling.

Glyndebourne Music Director, Andrew Davis moves things along to a good, flowing tempi and the London Philharmonic responds with breathtaking sound, alternately dense and diaphanous. This is, quite simply, one of my favorite performances of any opera and haunting, tragic lyric theatre at its very best.

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