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Pelleas et Melisande review at Glyndebourne, Lewes – ‘a confusing production’

John Chest and Christina Gansch in Pelleas at Glyndebourne. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Last month the Grange Festival opened a production of Handel’s Agrippina in sets that repeatedly referenced the venue itself and its recent history. Now, at Glyndebourne, Stefan Herheim presents Pelleas et Melisande in a staging whose main visual elements are openly borrowed from the Organ Room at the country house itself. It’s all starting to look a bit solipsistic.

Herheim’s production has other problems, too. Set around the time of the opera’s composition in the 1890s, it adds further levels of the enigmatic and the mysterious – not to mention the downright obscure – to a scenario already steeped in such things.

Why do the white-haired beggars discovered by Pelleas and Melisande sleeping in the cave become servants carrying artists’ easels? Why does an apparition of Jesus as the Good Shepherd suddenly materialise at an over-populated family dinner? Why does Golaud sexually assault his small son Yniold? Similar curiosities abound.

Though it’s no-one’s fault, it didn’t help the first night that due to a throat infection bass Brindley Sherratt was unable to sing the role of Arkel, which he acted while Richard Wiegold gave an unsurprisingly rough-hewn account of the part from the auditorium. And in an opera whose lightly sung vocal lines would benefit from Francophone singers, there’s just one – Chloe Briot’s Yniold – in the entire cast.

All of this compromises a performance whose most significant assets are the fluid and observant conducting of Robin Ticciati and the subtle and regularly luminous tone-colours provided by the London Philharmonic Orchestra – on marvellous form this season.

For the rest, there’s superior singing from Karen Cargill’s Genevieve, a solid but rarely commanding Golaud from Christopher Purves, an enthusiastic Pelleas from John Chest and a skilful but oddly disengaged Melisande from Christina Gansch, all of whom would undoubtedly make a stronger impression in a better staging.

Giulio Cesare review at Glyndebourne, Lewes – ‘a memorable revival’

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Verdict
Stefan Herheim’s confusing production scuppers Debussy’s opera, despite fine conducting from Robin Ticciati
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