Paris’ Opéra de la Bastille celebrated the 150th birthday of Claude Debussy with avant-garde director Robert Wilson’s “wondrous” (Le Figaro) production of “Pelléas et Mélisande” featuring a stellar cast. Stéphane Degout, Elena Tsallagova and Vincent Le Texier thrilled the audience and press alike; yet even the smaller roles were cast with highcaliber performers worthy of this special occasion: Anne Sofi e von Otter and Franz-Josef Selig. “The singers have integrated Wilson’s language of gestures and lighting to a degree never attained by previous casts” (Le Figaro).
Robert Wilson’s staging, a co-production of the Opéra national de Paris and the Salzburg Festival, is regarded as “a masterpiece through its restraint, through the stylization of its characters and the distribution of light, which at every moment, at every motion, gives rise to a genuine aesthetic emotion” (l’Humanité). It sketches a panorama of stark, austere images dominated by subtle lighting and shifting planes of color in which the characters cautiously move about, grabbing our attention through minimalistic gestures that endow this opera with new layers of meaning. Wilson produced it together with his creative team: Heinrich Brunke (light design) and Frida Parmeggiani (costumes), both of whom also worked with him on his legendary breakthrough production of the “Black Rider” (1990).
Philippe Jordan, the young music director of the Opéra national de Paris, gives a transparent reading of Debussy’s haunting music, a rich tapestry of shimmering, iridescent sounds. Debussy based his work – his sole completed opera! – on a Symbolist play by Nobel Prize winning dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck about a fateful love that leads to uncontrollable jealousy and murderous revenge.
At its world premiere at the Opéra Comique de Paris in 1902, “Pelléas et Mélisande” provoked a major scandal, as the conservative, conformist opera public of the time took personal o¥ ense to the work’s radical modernity. It is customary to regard Debussy as the French answer to Wagner, who also shocked audiences with the modernity of his musical idiom and also made use of prose-like texts for some of his works. Despite the scandal, “Pelléas” was an enormous success and over a hundred performances followed the premiere at the Opéra Comique.