Medici.tv allows me to see from the stage of the Paris Opera Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. It is one of those AHA! moments.
Philippe Jordan, Conductor
Robert Wilson, Stage director and sets
Stéphane Degout, Pelléas
Vincent Le Texier, Golaud
Franz Josef Selig, Arkel
Jérôme Varnier, Un Médecin, Le Berger
Elena Tsallagova, Mélisande
Anne Sofie Von Otter, Geneviève
I read that this is a revival, one that cannot be put aside.
It is a work like other operas because it is about love. Perhaps it could be compared to Tristan und Isolde. An older man marries a much younger woman and wrecks havoc when she falls in love with someone more her own age. Perhaps it could also be compared to L'Amour de Loin for its focus on the individuals in a static landscape.
The subject is the inner reality of love rather than the outer reality of action. The entire story takes place in a single extended location. They go into the woods to hunt; they go inside the castle; they walk out to the fountain; Mélisande looks out the window of her tower bedroom; they go down into the dungeons of the castle. It is like a Poe story--all atmosphere and emotion. Whatever it is, it is it to the ultimate degree.
This is the ultimate extreme of the opera as tone poem. There is a musical landscape like a forest enveloped in fog--no melodies, no leitmotivs can be extracted from the enormous soundscape. There are no arias or vocal climaxes. It seems to aspire only to existence.
For some this is the most boring opera ever written. I found in my researches that Camille Saint-Saëns loathed Debussy and traveled to Paris to see the opera so he could ridicule it.
In this production the musical landscape is represented by a vision of the open sky; the sun is about to rise but remains hovering just below the horizon. Sometimes it fades to almost black. The color palate ranges only from blue to purple.
The characters do not move so much as pose, create pictures, silhouettes against the sky.
My sense is that once you have seen it this way, you will never manage to unsee it. The opera has become this vision of it and will never separate back out again.