Glyndebourne 1963 – Pélleas et Mélisande

0 of 5 stars

Pelléas et Mélisande – Lyric opera in thirteen tableaux to a libretto by Maurice Maeterlinck

Golaud – Michel Roux
Mélisande – Denise Duval
Geneviève – Anna Reynolds
Arkel – Guus Hoekman
Pelléas – Hans Wilbrink
Yniold – Rosine Brédy
A Doctor – John Shirley-Quirk

The Glyndebourne Chorus

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vittorio Gui

Recorded “in the summer of 1963” at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, UK

Reviewed by: Tim Ashley

Reviewed: March 2009
GFOCD 003-63 (3 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 44 minutes



Italianate lyricism. The lovers’ final encounter in Act Four, meanwhile, is flagrantly coital, a brutal coupling in the face of potential extinction. This is not an interpretation that envisions Pelléas and Mélisande themselves as innocents, damaged or otherwise. The only flaw in Gui’s conducting comes at the end of Act Three, where the nerve-racking tension between Golaud and Yniold gives way to an orchestral postlude that seems low key in comparison. Most performances nowadays would place an interval at this point, though the accompanying material reveals that the production’s single interval came, unusually, at the end of Act Two: Gui perhaps felt the need for a drop in tension at this point before the even greater onslaught of Act Four, which he launches with considerable force.

Vocally, meanwhile, this has claims to being the most remarkable ‘Pelléas’ of all. If it reconciles some of the interpretativecontradictions between Désormière and Truc, it equals both inits well-nigh-flawless integration of voices and orchestra. It boastsarguably the greatest of all extant Mélisandes in Denise Duval,while similarities in timbre and style between Hans Wilbrink’s Pelléas and Michel Roux’s Golaud disquietingly underscore the idea that the two men are half-brothers, as well as bringing into play a whole range of doppelganger-ish associations that are simply unique.

Duval will always be considered the inspirational soprano, whom Poulenc considered the ideal Blanche in “Dialogues des Carmélites, and for whom he wrote “La Voix Humaine” and many of his later songs. Those familiar with her Poulenc recordings will already have some idea of her formidable expressive range, which allows her to probe the complex ambiguities within Mélisande’s character in greater depth than any other interpreter.That silvery tone turns darkly sensual when you least expect it, while her every utterance can be construed as either inherently naïve or sexually knowing, depending upon how we – and more importantly the other characters – actually interpret it. Yet at the same time we are also conscious of the spasms of fear, and the shudders of nostalgia and regret that indicate that she is a very real human-being whose suffering is unfathomable to thosearound her.

Wilbrink and Roux consequently play the half-brothers as tacitly united by desire for her, but conflicted in their responses to her ambivalent nature. Wilbrink’s ecstatic Pelléas, enraptured by her charm, becomes sexually more insistent each time he encounters her, but ignores the hints of knowingness that imply provocation on her part. Roux, who is all uptight ferocity and reined-in violence, reads evidence of duplicity into her ambiguities of expression but is painfully unconscious of both her innocence and the anguish he causes her. Though Roux has fractionally thedarker tone, the two men sound very much alike, as if each is onlydifferentiated from the other by his feelings for Mélisande.Wilbrink sounds very sexy at times, particularly in Act Four. Roux has none of the barked high notes that have undermined too many interpretations of the role, and manages to retain our sympathies even when interrogating Yniold and attacking Mélisande. Unusually – but under the circumstances unsurprisingly – the often underplayed central scenes of Act Three, in which Golaud terrorises Pelléas in the castle vaults, have a vividness and a resonance far beyond any rival version.

The rest of it is cast from strength. Guus Hoekman’s Arkel and Rosine Brédy’s Yniold will already be familiar to those who know Ansermet’s 1964 Decca recording. Hoekman is, if anything, even more noble and compassionate here, though Brédy, initially sounding a bit too arch, takes a while to get into her stride. The young Anna Reynolds is a fine Geneviève, hinting at deep disappointments beneath the woman’s façade of decorum and correctness. The Shepherd is not credited, though JohnShirley-Quirk makes much of little as the Doctor.

As with all Glyndebourne’s archive issues, the sound is impressive, though there’s some stage clatter, and someone, presumably Gui, can be heard singing along with Ducal at “Mes Longs Cheveux Descendent”. But even so, this is one of thegreatest of all performances of “Pelléas et Mélisande”, and essential listening for anyone who cares about it.

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