[Met Performance] CID:228220

New Production

Pelléas et Mélisande
Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, January 19, 1972

Debut : Barry McDaniel, Adam Klein

Pelléas et Mélisande (65)
Claude Debussy | Maurice Maeterlinck
Barry McDaniel [Debut]

Judith Blegen

Thomas Stewart

Giorgio Tozzi

Lili Chookasian

Adam Klein [Debut]

Clifford Harvuot

Gene Boucher

Colin Davis

Paul-Emile Deiber

Desmond Heeley

Production a gift of Francis Goelet
Pelléas et Mélisande received seven performances this season.

Production a gift of Francis Goelet

Review 1:

Review of George Movshon in Opera

There are some who adore "Pelléas et Mélisande" and others who detest it. The new Metropolitan production unveiled on 19 January gave both factions the opportunity to argue about Debussy's opera once more, for it remains as controversial as it was when new 70 years ago. My own response to it is something like admiration rather than affection; only rarely does my hand reach out to put on a recording, but in the theatre one succumbs without complaint to the understated half-world of Maeterlinck's Allemonde and to Debussy's unique painting of the emotions.

Not so long ago it was the custom to use such adjectives like "muted" and "restrained" and "mystically impressionist" about the score. That was before Boulez stripped away the fuzz to show us that there was real bone underneath it all. Now Colin Davis gives us a muscular, almost athletic projection of the score that sometimes sounds more like Mahler than Debussy. The orchestra responds to this treatment by providing truly splendid playing of an overtly romantic type. So everything sounds different again, with Davis as far in spirit from Boulez as the Frenchman stands remote from the concepts of Monteux and Ansermet, the two conductors whose post-war performances of "Pelléas" at the Met are most often recalled.

So whose view is the right one? I am sure I do not know. Each has seemed right at the time, Davis's last week, Boulez's at Covent Garden two years ago, Ansermet's a decade back. And it all proves, I imagine, that a masterpiece may have many faces and that he who pursues "the definitive performance" is chasing a mythical beast. The point of Colin Davis's projection of "Pelléas" is that it works, and works powerfully.

On stage, the new production is the work of Paul-Emile Deiber, with designs by Desmond Heeley. Mr. Heeley has saturated Maeterlinck's kingdom with leaves; myriads and multitudes of them move up and down on ranks of scrim. Dimly, castle walls, gothic arches, towers and grottoes are also seen to rise and fall through the tracery, for many of the scene changes take place without the fall of the curtain. The scenery is mostly hazy and sometimes there is no more than one bold architectural motif to suggest an entire set. This works well enough, for the imagination needs no more. Through all the murk come spotlights to illuminate the principal characters, and these projectors burn harshly and cruelly on the actors' faces. The imagination might well have been allowed more scope with people as well as walls, for though the new Mélisande is comely and the new Pelléas handsome, they are not helped by being made to move through fierce cones of light.

Judith Blegen is one of the most gifted "finds" of recent years, a lyric soprano of clear, even scale contained within a most attractive person, but she was not a great success as Mélisande, for which role she seems to lack true identification. The voice moves easily through the theatre, and it is a lovely young voice; but the words did not carry; magic was missing. Barry McDaniel, making his first appearance in the house, has the voice and the physique for Pelléas, but no sense of the doomed, Byronic lover came across the footlights.

The dominant performance of the production came from Thomas Stewart, fine actor that he is, who conveyed with poignancy the agonies of Golaud's condition. (The opera should by right be named after this character, for he is more fully developed than any of the others). Mr. Stewart's dark voice cuts through the texture, and it was instructive to realize that Colin Davis's robust scale of dynamics called for all the power the baritone could deliver;

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