In January 2016, for two nights only, Rattle will conduct Britain’s finest symphonic ensemble in a semi-staged production of Pelléas et Melisandé (1902), Claude Debussy’s sole opera and a landmark of early twentieth-century music. After years of alienation from the musical pomposity of the Paris stage, Debussy finally found the seeds of a new operatic era in Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1892 play.
Full of dream-like symbolism, yet for Debussy containing “far more humanity” than the grimy naturalist stories popular at the time, Pelléas takes a simple story of doomed lovers and injects it with sumptuous imagery and lofty themes, all the while maintaining an enchanted, almost fairy tale atmosphere. While Wagner’s music bellows out over the libretto, Debussy’s glides like a delicate mist. Bold emotions are jettisoned in favour of ambiguity and uncertainty, and the text – one of the first to be in prose – avoids poetic bluster. There are very few arias, but rather a continuous interweaving of voices, evocative of early choral music. It is the luminous opposite of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, supplanting the German’s bombast with a wholly new delicacy.
In the hands of Rattle and LSO, it looks certain that Debussy’s score will shine. The experienced cast – led by Christian Gerhaher, Gerald Finley and Magdalena Kozená, Rattle’s wife, in the starring role – are unlikely to disappoint. But what makes this production even more exciting is the involvement of Peter Sellars, opera’s reigning maverick, whose 1993 version gave Pelléas a hard-edged grit. Twenty-three years down the line, it will be fascinating to see how Sellars’ aesthetics have changed. If you only have time for one Rattle/LSO concert this season, book this one.
|What||Pelléas et Mélisande, Barbican Hall|
Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
09 Jan 16 – 10 Jan 16, 7:00 PM – 10:30 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Barbican website|