Review: In ‘Pelléas,’ the Met Opera’s Music Director Takes Charge | Modern Society of USA

Review: In ‘Pelléas,’ the Met Opera’s Music Director Takes Charge

Review: In ‘Pelléas,’ the Met Opera’s Music Director Takes Charge

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera, may not have many appearances with the company this season. But conducting the opening of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” on Tuesday night, he seemed fully in charge.

The 43-year-old conductor captured the hushed eeriness of the work’s first few measures, in which the orchestra suggests the somber, mysterious mood that pervades the entire opera. But that’s not all.

What also came through immediately was that, still fresh in his new role at the Met, Mr. Nézet-Séguin has arrived with bold interpretive ideas and the determination to carry them out. He took a daringly slow tempo in this opening passage, a solemn, low theme in chords that hints at modal plainchant. The restrained sound of the strings was deep and dark, yet resonant and slightly tremulous. The theme that immediately follows — a nervous, oscillating two-note motif — was all the more ominous for his subdued, weighty rendering.

This “Pelléas” is the first revival in nearly a decade of Jonathan Miller’s 1995 production, which metaphorically sets the story of an ill-fated family in a Gothic 19th-century castle where outdoor forests and chalky inner sanctums seem to merge. The sense of doom that runs through this opera, with a libretto Debussy adapted from Maeterlinck’s Symbolist play, came through in the opening scene between Prince Golaud, a grandson of King Arkel of Allemonde, and Mélisande, the frightened, secretive young woman Golaud encounters weeping by a fountain in the forest. The bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen commanded the stage as Golaud, his voice robust and strong, yet grave.

A lonely widower, Golaud is at once drawn to and protective of Mélisande. He knows not to press her immediately with questions about where she has come from, who has harmed her, and how. The mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard brought a melting sound to Mélisande while suggesting the character’s fears and volatility. Yet, she intriguingly tapped into this fragile young woman’s willfulness. After all, it takes control to maintain secrets (and to downright lie) as Mélisande does. You understand why she almost passively, as we soon learn, marries Golaud. What other course is there? In a way, what does it matter?

The tenor Paul Appleby brought youthful impulsiveness and sweetness to Pelléas, Golaud’s impressionable younger half brother, who falls uncontrollably in love with Mélisande. But on Tuesday, he seemed vocally underpowered, especially in his lower register. The role has been sung both by light baritones and tenors. Mr. Appleby’s voice had more presence when the music took him into his bright, upper range.

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