This riveting performance concluded Welsh National Opera’s summer visit to the Birmingham Hippodrome, and indeed the final outing of Pelléas et Mélisande on its tour. In his first-night review (link below) Peter Reed highlighted the strengths of David Pountney’s staging and Johan Engels’s powerful set designs. A malaise affecting the kingdom of Allemonde and its inhabitants is mentioned extensively in the libretto – from Pelléas’s father, his friend Marcellus, and both Mélisande and Golaud suffer various ailments or afflictions as the action unfolds. The dominant scaffold staircase topped by the huge skull also has a helical-type structure to it – and the eerie lighting in some of the interludes meant it caught flickers of blue and white as if signals were passing through. Were these meant to denote an illness or disease affecting the very genetics of the realm? A powerful idea if so: especially in the context of the cycle of life, here with tragedy depicted at the beginning and end of the opera.
From the pit there was a magnificent interpretation under Lothar Koenigs – taut, nervy and holding no punches. The conclusions of the third and fourth Acts were devastating in their immediacy. The cast excelled itself vocally and dramatically. Central to this was the Golaud of Christopher Purves – possibly the most truthful I have seen. The character’s brutish insensitive actions, engendered by an inability to communicate with anyone around him, were vividly characterised. One can lose empathy with Golaud – but Purves somehow managed to retain compassion for the character despite his appalling behaviour. The implication that this was a result of poor nurture by Arkel was also strong. Purves’s singing and his inflection and colouring of the text allowed every nuance of his descent to murderous jealousy to register. Much praise also for Rebecca Bottone’s Ynoild. Hers was a distressingly realistic depiction of innocence being crushed by the actions of others.
In the title roles Jacques Imbrailo and Jurgita Adamonyté were very effective in charting the progression of their strange relationship. He as Pelléas was wide-eyed, sensitive and impassioned as his romantic feelings were aroused; she as Mélisande curiously detached and enigmatic – as the text informs she should be. Leah-Marian Jones was a strong presence as the queen – perhaps the only truly considerate character of the work. Scott Wilde projected the contradictions of the blind but all-seeing Arkel.
In a word: stunning.