Glasgow Theatre Royal

March 1st 2017

Carolyn Sampson as Mélisande with Roland Wood as Golaud, in Pelléas and Mélisande. Scottish Opera 2017. Credit Richard Campbell..jpg

Carolyn Sampson and Andrei Bondarenko in Pelléas and Mélisande. Scottish Opera 2017. Credit Richard Campbell..jpgSome things, the best of things, take time. From inception, through evolution, to the final progression into folk-lore, there are very few classics that were tossed off in an hour or two. Claude Debussy’s Pelleas & Melisande is of the former sort, & the end product is quite simply divine. Debussy had seen the original play by Maurice Meterlinck in Paris, 1893, & had the first draft of the opera composed by 1895. But it would be another decade before he was happy with the piece, & we must all be grateful for his artistic care. Full of bassoons and cello-laden liturgicals, of its soundscapology Gavin Plumley told the Mumble how P&M was, ‘the product of a long and complex gestation, it reflects the many facets of Debussy’s musical apprenticeship, including his love of Wagner, his study of renaissance polyphony and his experiences of the exotic sounds of the east.’

Within a handful of years, P&M was being played out at the King’s Theatre, & 50 years later it would return as one of the two operas of the Scottish Operas inaugural season – Puccini’s Madame Butterfly being the other. Roll on another half century & more, Sir David  McVicar has returned Debussy’s only finished opera to the Scottish hills, & I can still hear the echoes two days on. There is an especial sensuality to the music of  P&M, while Debussy’s flirtation with the Symbolist movement runs rampant at all times, a mix which cast hovering night-birds over one’s imaginative realms.

Making a debut full of sincerity & warmth was BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize winner,  Andrei Bonarenko, while his beloved Melisande was played by Carolyn Sampson, back with SO after her success  as Anne Trulove in 2012’s Rake’s Progress. Her performance simply dripped liquid mercury as she drifted & glided about the stage as if she were a mermaid in the Aegean, & when she sang I felt more a sonorous siren than human being. Around there was no especial stand out singer, but instead a perfectly crafted combination accompanying voices including the dulcet chimes of wee Cedric Amamoo, making his operatic debut as Ynoid.

As Carmen, William Tell & Faust can all attest, he French language is simply made for opera, & Debussy is an excellent exponent, allowing a less formal roll of words which captures the effervescent vitality in the Gallic tongue. When to this we add Debussy accompanying musical touches, light & lucid brushstrokes of his mind, we are presented with a an audio banquet. What P&M also has incredible tip-toing tension. there is a constant nervous quality to the action, & P&M is indeed one of the most psychological operas I have ever witnessed.

Anne Mason and Carolyn Sampson in Pelléas and Mélisande. Scottish Opera 2017. Credit Richard Campbell..jpg

The stage set was a sensation, very Noseferatu, & when the curtains condensed down in little squares between scenes, I felt as if I was watching an early 20th century film. To give the set character,  Paule Constable waved her magical illuminative wand & one can see how she has won so many awards, such as 4 Olivier Awards, including her the recent ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.’

Although P&M is practically an Edwardian fairy tale, it is also a breathless, nuance-laden masterpiece – Debussy at his most exquisite best –  that one should see in Glasgow this weekend if at all possible.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen