In the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death, Victorian Opera presents a new production of Debussy’s rarely heard opera, Pelleas and Melisande, for two performances only on 11 and 13 October at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre.
Claude Debussy’s hauntingly beautiful Pelleas and Melisande (Pelléas et Mélisande) remains one of the most seminal operas ever written. Premiering at Opéra Comique in Paris in 1902, it revolutionised the art form and defied its traditions.
When Golaud finds the mysterious Melisande alone and weeping in the woods, he claims her as his wife. After she meets his brother Pelleas, an innocent love develops between them while Golaud’s suspicions deepen. A family’s relationships disintegrate as their tragic fates inevitably take grip.
Based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play, Debussy’s symbolist masterpiece fuses text, ethereal harmonies and floating instrumental colour with an atmospheric poetry unlike any other work.
“Pelleas and Melisande, Debussy’s only opera, is unlike anything else in the repertoire and changed the history of opera,” says Victorian Opera’s Artistic Director Richard Mills. “Its musical and dramatic language were stunningly new and unconventional when it premiered. This opera retains its capacity to astonish with its prodigious musical invention and dramatic force.”
Defying Italian operatic traditions and the dramatic music of Wagner, Debussy created an opera that was highly original and has had few imitations. Devoid of traditional arias or grandiose expressions of feelings, Pelleas and Melisande requires audience members to put aside preconceived notions of what typically defines opera and connect with the music in a more subconscious way.
The mysterious and unsettling yet seductive music creates an ominous atmosphere and reflects the story’s ambiguity and symbolist origins. Dreamy orchestral interludes connect the 15 scenes into a continuous flow of music. Leitmotifs for each principal character help express their psychological states and inner lives.
The opera illuminates the darker tones of humanity; jealousy, paranoia, retribution. While the plot resonates strongly, the many questions the opera raises still linger. Set in the mythical kingdom of Allemonde, the nature of time is unclear as is the nature of the relationship between the title characters.
“We have worked hard to remain true to the text, score and stage direction asked of us by Debussy,” says Director Elizabeth Hill. “Our aim has been to allow the audience to take from it what they see, hear, and feel. We have many questions and very few answers, and this was the joy of discovery for every member of our team. We now invite each member of the audience to interpret the work and encourage their own sense of curiosity and discovery.”
Following years of success across Europe and her star ascendant, Mildura-raised soprano Siobhan Stagg makes her dual Victorian Opera and role debut as Melisande. With credits including Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Deutsche Oper Berlin, Pelleas and Melisande marks the singer’s first staged opera in Australia. She stars opposite tenor Angus Wood, a veteran in the role of Pelleas, whose early successes in Australia propelled his career to Germany with principal residences at many major opera houses.
Acclaimed baritone Samuel Dundas returns to Victorian Opera, where he started his career as a Developing Artist in 2006. He makes his role debut as the unhinged Golaud. Stagg, Wood, and Dundas are joined by a talented all-Australian cast of distinguished and emerging singers including Liane Keegan, David Parkin, Stephen Marsh, and Sophia Wasley.
Former Victorian Opera Developing Artist (Design) Candice MacAllister makes her mainstage debut as a Set and Costume Designer bringing Debussy’s ethereal, medieval opera to the Palais Theatre. She works alongside Lighting Designer Joseph Mercurio.
As Debussy’s music is celebrated across the world, Australian audiences are urged to seize the rare opportunity to hear Victorian Opera’s production of his only opera Pelleas and Melisande.
Conductor: Richard Mills Director: Elizabeth Hill Featuring: Samuel Dundas, Angus Wood, David Parkin, Siobhan Stagg, Liane Keegan, Sophia Wasley, Stephen Marsh, Erinn Arnel, Chloé Henderson, Maria Peker, Victorian Opera Chorus, Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) Orchestra Set and Costume Design: Candice MacAllister Lighting Design: Joseph Mercurio Assistant Director: Laura Hansford
Pelleas and Melisande
Palais Theatre, Lower Esplanade, St Kilda
Performances: 11 & 13 October 2018 – 7.30pm
Information and Bookings: www.victorianopera.com.au
Image: courtesy of Victorian Opera