Debussy - Pelleas et Melisande
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Label: LSO Live
Cat No: LSO0790
Number of Discs: 3
Release Date: 6th October 2017
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
The plot, a love triangle between Prince Golaud, his wife Mélisande and his brother Pelléas, is shrouded in mystery and full of gripping twists and emotion-filled turns, ultimately ending in Pelléas’s untimely death. The sensuous score contains some of Debussy’s most exquisite music and perfectly crystalises the atmosphere of Maeterlinck’s original play.
"Irresistible...the performance was being recorded for LSO Live. I shall be first in the queue to buy it" – Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph ****
"Simon Rattle and Peter Sellars go headstrong into a bright future with the London Symphony Orchestra... It is a work that brings the best out of Rattle as an opera conductor too...The stature of Pelléas et Mélisande as one of the greatest of all operas was never in doubt, and the performance was dedicated to the memory of Pierre Boulez, who worked regularly with the LSO over almost half a century, and was a mentor to the young Rattle; Pelléas was also the only staged opera that he ever conducted in Britain." – The Guardian ****
"Rattle’s conducting was immaculate... the performance has made me think about the work again" – The Spectator
- Mélisande: Magdalena Kožená
- Pelléas: Christian Gerhaher
- Golaud: Gerald Finley
- Yniold: Elias Mädler
- Arkel: Franz-Josef Selig
- Geneviève: Bernarda Fink
- Shepherd, A Doctor: Joshua Bloom
1Acte 1 Scene 1 'Une Foret': 'Je Ne Pourrais Plus Sortir'
2Acte 1 Scene 1 'Une Foret': 'Pourquoi Pleures-Toi?'
3Acte 1 Scene 1 'Une Foret': Interlude
4Acte 1 Scene 2 'Un Appartement Dans Le Chateau': 'Voici ce Qu'il Ecrit a Son Frere'
5Acte 1 Scene 2 'Un Appartement Dans Le Chateau': 'Qu'en Dites-Vous?'
6Acte 1 Scene 2 'Un Appartement Dans Le Chateau': Interlude
7Acte 1 Scene 3 'Devant Le Chateau': 'Il Fait Sombre Dans Les Jardins'
8Acte 1 Scene 3 'Devant Le Chateau': 'Hoe Hisse Hoe!'
9Acte 2 Scene 1 'Une Fontaine Dans Le Parc': 'Vous Ne Savez Pas Ou Je Vous Ai Menee?'
10Acte 2 Scene 1 'Une Fontaine Dans Le Parc': C'est Au Bord D'une Fontaine'
11Acte 2 Scene 1 'Une Fontaine Dans Le Parc': Interlude
12Acte 2 Scene 2 'Un Appartement Dans Le Chateau': 'Ah! Ah! Tout Va Bien'
13Acte 2 Scene 2 'Un Appartement Dans Le Chateau': 'Tiens, Ou Est L'anneau Que Je T'avais Donne'
14Acte 2 Scene 2 'Un Appartement Dans Le Chateau': Interlude
15Acte 2 Scene 3 'Devant Une Grotte': 'Oui; C'est Ici Nous Y Sommes'
16Acte 3 Scene 1 'Une des tours du chateau': 'Mes longs cheveux descendent'
17Acte 3 Scene 1 'Une des tours du chateau': 'Je les tiens dans le mains'
18Acte 3 Scene 1 'Une des tours du chateau': 'Que faites-vous ici?'
19Acte 3 Scene 2 'Les souterrains du chateau': 'Prenez garde, par ici'
20Acte 3 Scene 3 'Une terrasse au sortir des souterrains': 'Ah, je respire en fin!'
21Acte 3 Scene 3 'Une terrasse au sortir des souterrains': Interlude
22Acte 3 Scene 4 'Devant le chateau': 'Viens, nous allons nous asseoir ici'
23Acte 3 Scene 4 'Devant le chateau': 'Qu'ils s'embrassent, petit pere?'
24Acte 4 Scene 1 'Un appartement dans le chateau': 'Ou vas-tu?'
25Acte 4 Scene 2: 'Maintenant que le pere de Pelleas'
26Acte 4 Scene 2: 'Pelleas part ce soir'
27Acte 4 Scene 2: 'Ne mettez pas ainsi votre main a la gorge'
28Acte 4 Scene 2: Interlude
29Acte 4 Scene 3 'Une fontaine dans le parc': 'Oh! Cette pierre est lourde'
30Acte 4 Scene 4: 'C'est le dernier soir'
31Acte 4 Scene 4: 'Nous sommes venus ici il y a bien longtemps'
32Acte 4 Scene 4: 'On dirait que ta voix'
33Acte 4 Scene 4: 'Quel est ce bruit?'
34Acte 5 Scene 1 'Une Chambre Dans Le Chateau': 'Ce N'est Pas De Cette Petite Blessure'
35Acte 5 Scene 1 'Une Chambre Dans Le Chateau': 'Attention, Je Crois Qu'elle S'eveille'
36Acte 5 Scene 1 'Une Chambre Dans Le Chateau': 'Melisande, As-Tu Pitie De Moi?'
37Acte 5 Scene 1 'Une Chambre Dans Le Chateau': 'Non, Non Nous N'avons Pas Ete Coupables'
38Acte 5 Scene 1 'Une Chambre Dans Le Chateau': 'Qu'avez-vous Fait?'
39Acte 5 Scene 1 'Une Chambre Dans Le Chateau': 'Qu'y A-T-Il?'
40Acte 5 Scene 1 'Une Chambre Dans Le Chateau': 'Attention... Attention!'
That this new recording from the LSO Live label, taken from semi-staged performances at the Barbican in January 2016, amounts to so much more is a tribute both to the sure musical hand of Simon Rattle (whose experience with Pelléas goes back decades) and to his enviable ensemble, from soloists down to the very last member of the orchestra. One of the first things that strikes the listener is not just the beauty of the sound, but also its all-enveloping nature: for these performances, with the orchestra onstage immediately behind the singers, the instruments doubled in function as the forest setting, with flutes and clarinets ranged either side of the stage, and the first violins in the centre. The effectiveness of this will undoubtedly be more apparent to those who have Surround Sound equipment, but even on standard stereo conventional the results are remarkable. And for once the powerless tragic heroine Mélisande really does die ‘among the violins’, as Debussy wished.
Rattle has at his disposal a top-drawer cast, who had already performed Peter Sellars’s semi-staging in Berlin with the conductor’s ‘other’ orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, before bringing it to London with the LSO. As the fated title characters, Magdalena Kožená and Christian Gerhaher have just the right voice types for Debussy’s mezzo-ish Mélisande and baryton-Martin Pelléas. Despite less than perfect French diction, Kožená is hugely engaging as a more than usually forthright heroine, with an alluringly smoky quality to the voice, while Gerhaher captures that strange combination of detachment and passion that makes Pelléas such a problematic hero. Franz-Josef Selig is a sympathetic Arkel, blind in wisdom as well as sight, while Bernarda Fink is luxury casting as Geneviève, mother of Golaud and Pelléas, whose appearances are limited to two scenes in Act 1. As Golaud’s son Yniold, treble Elias Mädler from the Tölzer Knabenchor demonstrates a musical maturity far beyond his years: the climax as, forced by Golaud to spy on the two lovers, he shouts ‘j’ai terriblement peur!’ is every bit as unsettling as it should be.
The outstanding individual, performance, however, comes from Gerald Finley as Golaud, the prince who discovers the lost Mélisande, marries her, but is then consumed by jealousy. Anyone who knows the opera will realise that it is this part, and not so much the title roles, that is the key to a great performance. Alone among a cast of characters fatally bound by Maeterlinck’s all-enveloping passivity, the restless Golaud vainly attempts resistance and action. And even though his actions are doomed at best to failure, at worst catastrophe, it is his resistance and his ultimately futile questioning that provide the work with its subtly shrouded dynamism. This role fits Finley like a glove. Whether glowering menacingly, desperately trying to be sensitive or rational, but above all in his jealous outbursts, Finley has the vocal range, technique and sensitivity to inhabit the part as few others have done, certainly in the post-mono era. Indeed, for all his many successes in the field of Lieder, and in operas from Mozart and Wagner to Adams and Turnage, this could be one of his finest achievements.
Alongside Finely’s Golaud, it is Rattle and the orchestra who raise this performance to greatness. There is a superb sense of slowly-built tension, unbearably powerful climaxes, and beautifully shaped interludes. Some may miss the authentic tang of the French orchestras of old, but the beauty and transparency of tone achieved by the LSO is a thing of wonder, and augurs well for its future under Rattle. Compared with the classic recording by Boulez (to whose memory the performances were dedicated), the textures are consistently more colourful, and Rattle’s tempi more pliant and (at times) volatile. This is a work that Rattle has lived with and conducted more than any other opera, and it shows in the way he and the orchestra shape and tease out every nuance of Debussy’s marvellous textures without ever feeling micro-managed. In particular, the crucial Acts 3 and 4 burn with a rare intensity, providing the fullest possible realisation of Maeterlinck’s dramatic vision. Listening to it all, the listener is left in no doubt that this is the work that unlocked the floodgates of Debussy’s mature style, in works such as La Mer and the great piano cycles.
With excellent sound, full libretto (in French and English) and at a highly competitive price, this is a bargain to be snapped up without hesitation. One laments only that room couldn’t be found in the booklet for a few pictures of Sellars’s striking production.
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