Cher Public

“Je suis heureux ici”

rattle_thumb“The decades-overdue debut of Sir Simon Rattle at the Met Friday night demonstrated brilliantly just what we’ve been missing: His conducting of Pelléas et Mélisande is the musical pinnacle of the season.” [New York Post]

  • Belfagor

    and my goodness, no counterpoint to the tune of ‘fucking brits’ -- I take this as real progress. Or is Maestro Geklapper counted as German these days? -- but was it really necessary to have Felicity Palmer and Willard White in supporting roles?

  • Nerva Nelli

    These two are always welcome (n.b. Sir Willard is from Jamaica and began his career at Juilliard, on Broadway and at the NYCO) but tomorrow’s Met FLUTE features Our Own Alan Oke as Monastatos. Why? He’s hardly irreplaceable.

  • Orlando Furioso

    It’s easy to agree that the Rattle debut is “long overdue,” and I do agree. But we do well to remember (as I have no doubt our Cieca does) that in most cases of “Why hasn’t [eminent conductor X] come to the Met?” the answer is likely to be “He was asked, and declined.” Not many conductors with flourishing careers (the ones who are apt to come up in this context) will set aside a month or so in NYC for rehearsals and intermittent performances, when they could be putting less work into concerts, or if opera, at least at their home base — and especially if the production isn’t a high-profile brand-new one.

    So it’s marvelous that it worked out in this case, and I only wish I could be there in person to luxuriate in his work.

    • Lucy

      In a recent radio interview (which I thought was NPR but can’t find the link through Google or my own browser history; sorry) Sir Simon said that he had indeed been asked, and declined, citing rehearsal time which he felt to be insufficient as an issue. He did say he was thrilled to be working with the orchestra: “they’re as good as everyone says they are.”

      • Well, as Dr. Freud might have said had be been in charge of an opera house, sometimes rehearsal time is just rehearsal time, and other times it’s a euphemism for certain other desired conditions not being met, e.g., repertoire, ideas for casting. Those who dismiss Peter Gelb as being only interested in glossy PR might well consider the names of conductors who have made debuts at the Met since the beginning of his incumbency.

        • Nerva Nelli

          “Those who dismiss Peter Gelb as being only interested in glossy PR might well consider the names of conductors who have made debuts at the Met since the beginning of his incumbency.”

          A smart idea from that source of smart ideas:

          The “Why bother?” column
          Friedrich Haider
          Jens Georg Bachmann
          Kazushi Ono
          Paolo Carignani
          Lothar Koenigs
          Riccardo Frizza
          Pietro Rizzo
          Dan Ettinger
          Andris Nelsons
          Stefano Ranzani
          Alain Altinoglu
          Pavel Smelkov
          Steven White
          Paolo Arrivabeni
          Roberto Rizzi Brignoli

          The “Dunno” column
          Kazem Abdullah
          [did anyone hear his ORFEO?]
          Julien Salemkour
          [did anyone hear his TURANDOT?]

          In the positive (more or less) column:
          Nicola Luisotti
          Louis Langree
          J. David Jackson
          Dante Anzolini
          Alan Gilbert
          Daniel Barenboim
          Bernard Labadie
          Esa-Pekka Salonen
          Yannick Nezet-Seguin
          Riccardo Muti
          Patrick Fournillier
          Simon Rattle

          Hmm… [famous, but in the event… kind of glossy PR rather than results]]

          Tan Dun
          Edward Gardner
          William Christie


          So, an effort is being made, but the jury remains out.

          • NYCOQ

            The Tan Dun was iniated by Volpe…

        • Nerva Nelli

          And, need I point out, NO WOMEN AT ALL.

          • ianw2

            Yeah, but how many women conductors are there? A problem in itself, but the talent pool isn’t particularly deep.

            Haim’s rep doesn’t really pop up at the Met (and her work with established house orchestras has been uneven anyway). Young is happily esconsced with a free rein in Hamburg. Alsop hasn’t done much opera at all. That pretty much leaves Queler.

            I think you can move Rattle over the Famous column. Music Director of the Berlin Phil is a pretty starry gig.

            (as an aside, I have a pretty unhealthy crush on Yannick which biases me, but I think he could slip over to ‘famous’ in due course)

          • Buster

            My best bet: Karen Kamensek.

          • ianw2

            Oh, I forgot Keri-Lynn Wilson. Considering she’s married to Gelb, that may be a bit too much of a conflict of interest to work at the Met.

          • Camille

            Nerva Nelli, didn’t you point out to us that it was *Simone Young*
            in a cheap wig who conducted Pel & Mel the other evening???

          • CruzSF

            Invite Karen Keltner, resident conductor at San Diego Opera.

          • Camille

            What about Marin Alsop?

          • Susanne Mälkki for one of the planned premieres.

          • Nerva Nelli


            “I think you can move Rattle over the Famous column. Music Director of the Berlin Phil is a pretty starry gig.”

            Ian, I don’t think you read the names of the columns very carefully- or don’t you consider Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti “famous”?

    • NYCOQ

      Orlando it’s more like Levine probably didn’t want him anywhere near his orchestra. Despite his appearance of being a jolly little Jewish cherub Levine has probably only softened on certain conductors because he knows that he can’t go on forever and the Met does need the excitement of new blood.

      • brooklynpunk

        …..”jolly little Jewish cherub…”…??

        Oy, GEVALT….!!

        …was THAT really….NECESSARY….??

        (sorry if I seem overly sensitive…)

        • m. croche

          Well, cherub is derived, via Latin, via Greek from the Hebrew “kerubh”, so I suppose we could say that “what’s the problem with ‘jolly little Jewish kerubh’? Jews talk that way among themselves all the time.”

          I guess it depends on whose ox is being gored, huh?

        • NYCOQ

          The Cherubim are mentioned in Old Testament so I see nothing to be offended by. If I offended then I apologize. Okay jolly little Jewish gnome instead. Better?

          • brooklynpunk


            not my intent , really to “flame” you over this… so I apologize if it came across that way..

            In a grumpy mood…and the cherub part didn’t irk me, as much as the jewish “indentifier”, used for a figure who doesn’t seem to need that as a description…

            I’, sure it wasn’t meant in a negative way.. but, as I said, sometimes I’m just overly sensitive to it…. thanks!

          • m. croche


            Do you perhaps have a better idea now why someone might be irked by seeing the label “uncle tom” applied to a black person?

      • sterlingkay

        I don’t think the Jewish comment was necessary…

        • CruzSF

          It seemed unnecessary to me, but it appears to be business-as-usual for some people.

        • MontyNostry

          Cherubim and seraphim are Old Testament, aren’t they? But are the also ecumenical?

          • I am pretty sure they are also mentioned in one of the gospels when the sheperds are notified that Christ is about to bust out of Mary’s fully hymen’d vijay. Something about all the seraph singing praises or something like that. I also feel like we see them referenced in revelations once we’re past the mass extermination of humanity into the lake of fire and in heaven with the singing and the praising all day.

        • NYCOQ

          By the Goddess people. Let it go. He’s Jewish, right? What’s wrong with that? Someone described Sir Willard White as Jamaican earlier. Does that constitute un-pc-ness? Again APOLOGIZE if I offended anybody by referring to Levine’s ethnicity. I guess my gnome statement a few comments ago probably isn’t going to go down as funny either. Sorry, I thought I was being funny.

          • CruzSF

            Well, no one is saying it’s the crime of the century. You DID mention that he’s a conductor, after all.

          • sterlingkay

            Well you weren’t funny….and you do understand the difference between calling someone Jamaican (nationality) & black (ethnicity), right?

            Another example of how some of the bitchiest queens on PARTERRE, who do nothing but criticize others all day long, can’t take the slightest bit of criticism. Thin-skinned, much?

          • sterlingkay

            If you had referred to Levine by his nationality (American), no one would have been offended.

        • brooklynpunk

          M . croche:

          I am not sure it’s exactly the same thing….I think of “uncle tom-ism” as more of a political comment, refering to a particular method of responding to events against a community…

          To identify someone as JEWISH, in an arbitrary way… in a slightly negative statement, to boot, especially when his religon is not a major factor in his “worldly” persona, is just …puzzling…to ME…..

          • I think that “little Jewish HOMO gnome” will probably be the most accurate description, in Der Sturmer, I mean.


    Just bought a ticket for tonight’s performance based on Maury and JJ’s reviews. I cannot wait. Frigid in the city tonight, but it will be worth venturing out into the cold.

  • Thanks to JJ for adding the extra thing I’ve missed earlier. The gist of the thing is, I’m terribly envious of New Yorkers right now! I love Pelleas and Isolde. And, based upon everything I’ve heard Sir Simon do, he’s just the man for the job, right here, right now in 2010.

    • Belfagor

      I’m looking forward to hearing more of Dewagner’s output……..

  • Now this I call a review. But who’s this Simon Rattle character you’ve gone on and on about?

    • ianw2

      Well played.

  • Orlando Furioso

    As to that “rehearsal time” issue — Cieca is all too right that it can be a catchall for other conditions not being met. And even in the cases when conductors are known for supposedly demanding extra rehearsal time, it can be out of caution in the face of unknown conditions.

    The example I have in mind is Carlos Kleiber (for my money the one definite great-in-any-era maestro of recent decades) who was a notoriously hard catch, and yet came to the Met for 3 seasons around 1990 (and was undoubtedly asked for more). And what I heard from friends in the orchestra was that (a) they all, even the hardened old-timers, felt inspired by his presence and remembered why they went into music in the first place, and (b) he DIDN’T make special demands in terms of rehearsal time. In fact, once he was sure of the orchestra’s quality and responsiveness, he would often just run the bits that needed it and let them go early, assured that they could “create” the work in performance. But I bet that until he’d gotten to know the orchestra, he worried about insufficient rehearsal time.

    • Henry Holland

      I’ve often wondered why Esa-Pekka Salonen only did one production with the Los Angeles Opera during his tenure with the Philharmonic. It was Pelleas with Monica Groop, Willard White and Francois Le Roux, with the infamous Malibu Beach House production of Der Zwerg Peter Sellars. Salonen did a great job but never did anything else for LAO.

      One of my great moments in an opera house occurred during that Pelleas. The O.J. Simpson trial had just started and you couldn’t avoid it here if you tried. So, there we have on stage a large black man physically abusing a blonde white woman and the crowd gasped.

      • Camille

        Hi Henry. I think we spoke about this at another time, some months ago.

        We saw this same production at Het Musicktheater in Amsterdam and my husband recalls that Sir Willard took out a samurai sword off the wall to aggress Pelleas. That was 1996, and it was shocking enough even there and then, so I can well imagine what you all must have felt, right down the street from the courthouse.

        I ended up really liking that production very much indeed. It was unimaginably poignant. The production I saw here with the great Jose van Dam here at the Met was not, excepting his great acting, at all in the same league.

        • Henry Holland

          It was a great production, wasn’t it? It just *worked*, especially the sets, because the different floors of the house allowed for the characters to still be visible even if the scene was focused elsewhere. It felt like they were all trapped there but it was touches like the guys in LAPD uniform beating the crap out of a gaggle of poor people that really stuck with me.

          There’s that awesome moment in the opera when the orchestra swells and then stops dead as Pelleas and Melisande exchange their anti-Tristan J’taime / J’taime aussi. Salonen judged that crescendo perfectly at the performance I went to, it was like a 1000 volts of electricity went through me at that moment. Ah, the Peter Hemmings days, how I miss them……..

          • Jack Jikes

            To my eternal regret I never saw that production. I did see photos.
            I remember a Richard Neutra-style cantilevered house with a wheelchair-bound King Arkel, resembling the aged Howard Hughes, looking out through a massive expanse of glass -- a stunning image of isolation and loneliness.
            The Desmond Heeley decors at the Met were fine but Adrienne
            Lobel’s construct for Sellars is an astonishing ‘fit’ for Debussy’s
            Materlinck’s text is another thing. It calls for a heavily-forested environ BUT intuition tells me that Sellars/Lobel caught something that will not be matched.

  • Camille

    Totally Off Topic, but maybe helpful to some:

    WKCR FM, has today commenced their annual Bach-a-thon, that is, all J. S. Bach all the time until New Year’s. It is my annual savior of this season and I highly recommend it to any person in the New York City area as antidote to the “I’ll be home for Christmas” saccharine that is being played everywhere now, in hopes of inducing guilt sufficient to whip out that plastic card and charge, charge, charge away one’s life.

    • Jolly ol’ St. Johann Sebastian

    • La marquise de Merteuil

      Dear Camille,

      We agree on so much, but a minute of Bach’s music is like a year in jail for me.


      • Camille

        Ma chere marquise,

        If it is any consolation, I never listen to Bach at any other time, except the Goldberg variations, of which I am fond at any time. I get a year’s worth in just one week. Like I said, it’s better than listening to saccharine shite, or worse, Bryn croon ‘chrismus carols’.

        Just Imagine being with a drunken abusive Welshman in a stoney cottage listening to that crap!

    • Nothing like Bach in my world.

      Currently listening to the Dunedin’s B minor, my desert island work.

      • I practically worship Bach — the keyboard works, the solo violin partitas and sonatas, the cantatas, the orgran works. But I have to admit that I’ve not being able to get into the B minor mass. I’ve tried a few times (and have the Shaw recording) but except for a few parts (including the magnificent opening movement), I just can’t get into it. It all sounds just too lithurgical for me.

        • Shaw is great -- but what helped me into the work were the HIP recordings. Try the new Minkowski with 10 soloists also doing choir worl.

          There’s nothing more exhilarating for me than the concluding fugue of the Gloria section. In all music. My hair just stays on end, I have shivers all around my back and my heart pounds wildly. Absolutely nothing does it to me like this. Listen at 4:10.

          IMO The B minor is possibly the greatest work of art the human mind has produced. Up till now.

          • *work.

            Promotion clip for Minkowski’s recording on Naive. Notice the delightful 21 year old Lezhneva.

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            So I see a vocal soloist got fired (?) off this project…

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            or shall I say was not available…

          • lorenzo.venezia

            “Ich habe genug”, more modest perhaps, but defines superlatively gorgeous.

          • I love Ich habe genug in all its forms!

            Somehow, I personally need more scope and colour. Perhaps the Cum sanctu spiritu is the most outrageously exhilharating chorus, but the Confiteor with its amazing transitory choral recitative is undoubtedly THE highlight of western music. Just these 2 minutes. Starting at 2:55

          • Geez, I’m going to have to listen to that Gloria fugue!!

          • Didn’t realize the thing got brutally cut off. Here’s Suzuki with the whole transition

          • lorenzo.venezia

            Didn’t Noah Greenberg do it in the 50s with a chorus of four, blowing everyone away? the original original HIP?

          • Lorenze you can’t technically do it with four people, because most of the choruses in the B minor are for 5 voices, sometimes 6 and in the Hosanna it’s a double 4-part choir, ergo 8 voices.

            Shaw back in 1960 was actually pioneer in many ways. He used a medium sized chamber choir and had favoriti (solo choristers) singing as soloists in some parts of the choruses, giving the whole work a concerto grosso feeling. I believe he was right. It is amganificent recording in its way, but I miss the sound of natural trumpets and hard sticks on the timpani. It gives extra sharpness and definition to the sound.

          • lorenzo.venezia

            hmmm. greenberg was doing his thing in 40s and 50s (he died in ’66) with New York Pro Musica Antiqua (founded ’52ish) (Play of Daniel, etc); and I recall but cannot confirm that he did a groundbreaking recording of B Minor Mass for Nonesuch with chorus of 4 or 5… It has disappeared from the catalog, so who knows. I’m looking into the Minkowski!

          • I have practically all the one-per-part versions of the B minor :
            Rifkin (Nonesuch)
            Parrott (EMI, actually uses one extra voice for the massive tutti with 3 trumpets)
            Junghanel (HMF, terribly dry and boring)
            Minkowski (occasionally 2 per part)
            Dunedin (likewise)
            van Veldhoven (mostly one per part with additional two ripienists per part for the big choruses)

            Actually I’ve worked extenively with Andrew Parrott, one of the pioneers in the field and an avid advocate for the one-per-part theory. I had dinner with him once, and commented on Gardiner having much improved as a Bach conductor, with better balance between orchestra and chorus. “What chorus” he asked quizzically. It took me an additional minute to figure out that I was horribly off the mark with him :)

          • lorenzo.venezia

            maybe I had it confused with Rifkin. It is on Nonesuch… For me, there is no one pinnacle, but certainly Tallis’s Spem in Alium, the B Minor Mass, Siegfried Act III, Beethoven Op. 111 are all in the same range :-)

          • Lorenzo, this kind of commennt makes want to visit Siegfried again, score in hand. It IS a great work of art, totally original, although I prefer the more tightly constructed 1st act. But now you made me want to rediscover the third!

            For me the absolute masterpieces are Bach’s chaconne in D minor (violin) and Mass, Beethoven’s 131, Mozart’s divertimento (huh) for violin, viola and cello, Monteverdi’s Combattimento and Poppea, and Verdi’s Falstaff. Possibly the middle movement of Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto too. But the High Mass is way up there. I’m an atheist and a denouncer, but this music makes me think that somehow, quite possibly, there IS some kind of divine intervention.

          • lorenzo.venezia

            When I was living in Chicago years ago I taped a CSO broadcast of Siegfried Act III with Solti. But I didn’t really appreciate it until the Boulez/Chereau centenntial Bayreuth production threw open the doors for me. It has been mad love ever since (and that’s some years!) I find Act III emotionally overwhelming; the Carsen production at Fenice a couple years ago was an absolute euphoric that lasted for days. The Wotan-Erda scene alone was monumental. I don’t know if you’ve seen the YouTube video that went viral a few weeks back called “Alice: Dancing Under the Gallows” about the 106 yearold pianst auschwitz survivor in London, Alice Herz Sommer, but at one point she says “music is god.” I think she is right ;-)

          • Belfagor

            I have been known, for a week at a time, to retreat into the Art of Fugue -- it works for me as a form of detoxication from the world, as well as a miracle of -- for the want of a better word, and a phrase that needs to be divested of any contemporary allusion ‘sound engineering’.

            Funnily enough, I’m less responsive to JSB’s vocal works as a whole -- I get a bit impatient with his instrumental approach to voices, and the absence of practicalities -- like where to breathe, and so on…….

          • Millstein playing the Bach D minor Chaconne. Doesn’t get any better than that.

          • Hey Belfagor -- if there’s any chance anybody’s still reading this --

            I get you reg JSB’s very instrumental writing for voices, but personally I feel like celebrating Bach’s great choral works for what they are, not for what they aren’t. Having sung the Mass was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Of course, the only way to get through Bach as a chorister is to treat this music as if one was singing solo, not in terms of volume or mass, but the focus and polish that is demanded of solo singing.

            As for practicalities, or articulation and dynamics, these started resurfecing around the late 18th century and are very rare in baroque writing, because the composers were writing in very familiar formulas and they often worked very closely with the performers.

            Kashy -- which Milstein version do you mean? The EMI is wonderful, the later DG recording is slightly off pitch sometimes. I prefer Hilary Hahn’s miraculous disc of excerpts, and the immensly gifted Julia Fischer. Her sonatas and partitas is for all time.



            this would probably be my desert island version.

  • Jack Jikes

    Spot-on review JJ!

    For me Pelleas remains perennially modern but with Rattle at the helm its as if I’d never heard the score before.

    • sterlingkay

      OFF TOPIC: A very nice review of Yonghoon Lee in the Times today….though I worry that this immensely gifted young singer might be doing too much too soon. We need him!

      A couple of other nuggets gleaned from my (obsessive) trawling of the internet & opera blogs:

      I guess Simon Keenlyside was telling folks after the last DON CARLO that he will be back the season after next to sing in the FRENCH version…interesting

      Also, the new RIGOLETTO production at the Wiener Festwochen is listed as a co-production with the MET and La Scala. The director: LUC BONDY!!!

      • sterlingkay

        Apologies, here’s the right link:

      • The Rigoletto is actually being premiered in Vienna in May as part of the Wiener Festwochen (where the Chéreau From the House of the Dead production was also seen).

      • Jack Jikes

        Lee is 37-years old. What should he save himself for?
        Sing NOW Mr. Lee -- what you want -- when you want.

        • La marquise de Merteuil

          JJ, I can’t help but agree with you, but I should add that Lee would likely be wiser to have a go at the lighter lyric stuff of his fach and then post 40 move into the heavier spinto rep. And Carlo is a bit of a voice wrecker.

          • Donna Carlo

            Mme La Marquise, I can’t help but agree with YOU. In the packed Broadcast Chat Room, there was no one who didn’t feel that Lee was way out of his depth, strangling on every forced note, especially the ones at the top.

            I may have missed a counter-opinion because the crosstalk was intense. I also fled in horror early on because I didn’t think it could get any worse. Or do I mean any better?

            I can’t fathom the review on the artsbeat link. You put it so kindly, as is your wont, Mme, but to me he just stank.

          • Yes, it certainly snuffed out the careers of Bjoerling, Tucker, PIcchi, Corelli, Aragall, Prevedi, Domingo, Cossutta and Martinucci, to name just a few.

            This whole “wiser to have a go” theory is based on the unsupported conjecture than an artist at the beginning of a career has a virtually infinite number of attractive offers of contracts in precisely the roles he feels like singing. According to this theory, when Lee is relayed through his manager an offer from the Met do to four performances of Don Carlo in the early winter of 2010, he is supposed to counteroffer, “no, I think Edgardo would be better for me, and March 2013 is more convenient to my schedule. Now: here are my suggestions for conductors…”

            The only beginning singers who can attempt to dictate such terms are the independently wealthy and the delusional. Even the most cooperative singer finds himself going into debt because there are not enough offers (of any kind, let alone those that center on “the lighter lyric side of his rep”).

            The further bit of nonsense here is that “heavy” and “light” are not absolute terms: for a role plausible to one’s Fach, really the only way to know “is this for me” is to learn it and to sing it a few times onstage.

            A career built on “no” is no career: instead, the result is a frustrated, bitter middle-aged unemployed person with a mountain of debt and a pristine voice nobody has ever heard.

          • I think for a lirico-spinto tenor like Lee, Don Carlo is exactly the kind of thing he should be singing. Yes, it’s a role requiring a lot of stamina but it’s not as heavy as, say, Alvaro or Radames. This is the time of his career when he should be taking on heavier roles. The important thing is to pace himself and to sing with the voice he has, rather than trying to be something he’s not.

            And of course, La Cieca’s post about the practical implications of role choices is spot-on. Singers have to choose from the offers they receive, and until they have more clout, they have to make prudent choices based on what has been offered. And sometimes, in order to launch a career, they have to accept an offer than they wouldn’t accept in an ideal world. But they have to take those risks to make a name for themselves.

            I think the most improtant thing is to know one’s own voice and what it can take. Even a too-heavy role can be sung without damaging the voice so long as the singer doesn’t try to be del Monaco.

          • scifisci

            Donna Carlo said: “In the packed Broadcast Chat Room, there was no one who didn’t feel that Lee was way out of his depth, strangling on every forced note, especially the ones at the top.”

            The key word being BROADCAST. Having heard him live, I can say that he was not out of his depth and still had plenty of voice left at the end.

          • Batty Masetto

            Also, Donna, he improved after you left. Early nerves maybe?

          • BTW, I liked him on the broadcast (and said so in the chat) I thought he had a rough start but still showed a lot of promise. And the negative comments about his singing died away as he improved.

    • Pelleas et Melisande @ Most Addictive Opera

      Hello Jack,

      “For me Pelleas remains perennially modern…”

      Hmm… I’ve always viewed it as the final exquisite rendering of the Wagnerian age.

      There has been significant lobbying over the past 30 years in both academic (e.g. Paul Griffiths) and compositional (e.g. Pierre Boulez) circles for the Debussy-as-Modernist view which has always included ‘Pelleas’.

      I don’t see it as a dawn, but as a sunset (like Debussy said of Wagner).

      I think poetic sensitivity and refinement of this order is always a very late phenomenon… In short — Debussy’s incomparably beautiful opera ends the 19th century.

      But ultimately we should only be interested in music’s PERSONALITY and not what was perceived or is perceived as futuristic or ‘modern’.

      • Jack Jikes

        I don’t see much difference between the worlds of Glass, Adams and the Debussy of Pelleas. Wagner hit moments of minimalist-mystical modernism in Parsifal but he let go. Debussy was tenacious.
        There is a clarity to Pelleas -- it accepts so many colors.
        In the whole of music it has no equivalent.
        It is EXTREME! At intermissions audiences flee by the hundreds -- at least at the Met.
        In dramatic musical modernism there is a summit -- inhabited in lonely fashion -- by Wozzeck and Pelleas.

        • Jack Jikes

          I was thinking of the titanic achievements of R. Strauss but even in works
          such as Elektra and Salome there is a comfortable foot-hold in
          Wagnerism. Stravinsky -- no Wagnerite -- famously said that Wagner was the greatest innovator in the history of music and that it was impossible to escape his influence. In Pelleas I can see the traces of Wagner but NEVER does it sound as if it were he. In terms of pure sound-scape, Pelleas is unto itself.

      • m. croche

        Perhaps it would be more useful to quit opposing “the 19th century” with “the 20th century”. Each century was itself heterogeneous and there is moreover a great deal of rapport between the two. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend a lot of time developing tendentious definitions of what is “essentially” 19th-century and what is “essentially” 20th-century, simply so that the resulting historical picture will place P&M squarely where you wish it. In short, I don’t like these labels -- they more often confuse or mislead than enlighten.

        • Jack Jikes

          I agree but there is still the phenomenon of modernism.
          A Corbusier villa is modernist, a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie house is not.
          ‘A Rake’s Progress’ is clearly a 20th century opera with modernist touches
          but it avoids that essential thing. I think giving Pelleas the ‘label’
          of ‘modernism’ -- indeed I think it is the first great work of musical modernism -- honors its essence.

          • Belfagor

            The curious thing about ‘Pelleas’ is its chameleon like nature -- rather like Melisande herself it seems that an interpreter can impose upon it and receive back a reflection that fits.

            Its originality is besides the notes, as it is easy to pinpoint its derivations from Wagner and Mussorgsky and others.Or its ‘re-inventions’ of prosody from 17th century Italian opera. But like all great originals its roots are turned by some unclassifiable alchemy to originality -- it happens with Wagner, Stravinsky, Philip Glass

            Thus Karajan can turn it into a post-Romantic Wagner/Strauss/early Schonberg experience, almost expressionist and it (sort of) works. Or Boulez or Ansermet can apply a chillier approach and the work still prevails. Doesn’t that account for the works fascination?

            Certainly when you look at the score, even its extraordinary orchestral sound-world it is clarity itself, almost Mozartian, nothing like the extravagantly contrived test-tube colour experiments that Wagner and Rimsky-Korsakov created during vaguely the same period.

          • Jack Jikes

            Belfagor -- well said -- I particularity like your use of the word ‘clarity’.

          • Beautifully put, Belfagor. Thank you.

        • m. croche

          The problem is that you can find musicologists making cogent cases for different birthdates of “modernism” depending on their sense of what “modernism” is: the 1830s, 1860s, 1890s, 1910, 1920s, 1950s. Now, I think you can learn something from taking all these different definitions and periodizations and comparing them with one another, but if the exercise teaches you anything, it is that it is unwise to make pronouncements on the “essence” of a particular concept. What we have, usually, are too few concepts (romantic, modern) that have devolved into catchphrases and that have been interpreted too variously by different people with differing degrees of attention to the specific circumstances under which individual works were created.

          One interesting note in this regard: in the German Handbuch der Musikgeschichte, which was their 1980s multi-volume attempt to periodize music history by century -- Carl Dahlhaus’ volume of the 19th century ends before it reaches Pelleas and Hermann Danuser’s volume of the 20th century begins after Debussy. It’s like the old joke of the two Jews stranded on the desert island -- after 10 years they’re rescued and someone asks them about the three buildings they had put up on the island. One of the Jews replies: “The first building is the synagogue I go to, the second building is the synagogue he goes to. The third is the synagogue neither of us goes to.”

        • Pelleas et Melisande @ Most Addictive Opera


          Yes, I take your point.

          But again, these categories are our a posteriori historical constructions, not Platonic truths that exist apart from our histories.

          By the way, I attended last Friday’s premiere. It was unpleasant to hear a round of laughter when Melisande dropped the ring into the well; the mood of the scene was marred. The incident shows how uninformed the Met’s ‘new’ audience are, how insensitive and lacking in poetic understanding people have become. Also, there were many empty seats in the house at the start and with each intermission the audience dwindled further…

          Well, Debussy’s masterpiece is not called the ‘connoisseur’s opera’ for nothing.

          (I will be attending again on Thursday evening and the 1st)

          • operacat

            Saw the performance on Monday night and loved it. As did the very appreciative audience which largely stayed until after midnight and cheered loudly — even the cast seemed surprised by the three curtain calls. As for the laughter, I felt that Kozena played that moment (and a few others), if not for humor, at least to infer that it was intentional. I dont blame the audience. . .I found it amusing as well and I liked seeing that in a work that I love.

  • Great review from JJ. Had my socks knocked off (figuratively, not literally) by the Sirius broadcast of the prima Friday evening. Via audio only, one of the most intriguing and beautiful live performances of Pelleas et Melisande in my experience. A review (far too long to post here) is at my blog:

    I couldn’t help laughing when at the conclusion of Act I, the lone person daring to applaud (at the end of an act!) was roundly “shushed.” Oh, c’mon!


    • Donna Carlo

      Hi Sharky,

      Got tears of reminiscence in my eyes—still got ’em, so forgive any typos—reading your superbly dead-on review. How downright lucky we are to have actually HEARD this thing. The chat room was stunned into amazed silence during one prelude, though I know you’re not going to believe that one.

      To those who were actually in the house: why didn’t you invite me over to sit on your lap? I’m tiny and wouldn’t have obstructed the view.

    • Harry

      And if that is the case with Pelleas & Melisande, an opera house has no right to claim its audiences are sophisticated. I am now waiting for someone to mention that members of the audience chatted during this opera’s musical ‘interludes’.
      I have always under-estimated what passes for musical intelligence in opera -- going audiences, at some so called ritzy venues. Many, just by their general behavior and attitude show they are but dressed up fuck-wits treating it as a trip to some up-market Disneyland.

      • That explains all those Disney characters re-appearing constantly in the Regieoper.

      • operacat

        I was at the performance on Monday and was astonished at how silent the audience was during the performance. Even coughing and fidgeting waited for act breaks. My friend expressed equal surprise. Perhaps being in the front orchestra helped, but I was impressed, not just with a musically superb perforamnce, but by a very appreciative audience. Now about that production. .. why were they totally lit while they talked of wanting to stay in the shadows??? ALL EVENING!!!

        • Pelleas et Melisande @ Most Addictive Opera


          “Saw the performance on Monday night and loved it. As did the very appreciative audience which largely stayed until after midnight and cheered loudly — even the cast seemed surprised by the three curtain calls. As for the laughter, I felt that Kozena played that moment (and a few others), if not for humor, at least to infer that it was intentional. I dont blame the audience. . .I found it amusing as well and I liked seeing that in a work that I love…”


          Well, any ADULT who giggles or laughs at any aspect of opera (but especially Debussy’s) is not listening very closely.

          Even in a humorous passage there is drama there and one should be focusing on the vocal/musical line at all times.

          • operacat

            Opera for some of us is theatre and entertainment. When it is musically satisfying as well, then it is a great opera.

        • atalaya

          The audience I thought was quite respectful Monday night. One example, waiting for Rattle to drop his arms before applauding. I don’t ever recall seeing the audience do that at the Met. Usually it’s everybody trying to be the first one to start clapping when it sounds like something is concluding.

          It was very nice to hear the silence.

          The symbolism and metaphors throughout P&M are wild. The shadows operacat mentions being just one example. Windows are another. The sea plays a huge part. When Melisande and the Mother are in the garden (I think it was the garden) near the beginning, and the mother says “I haven’t been here in forty years… There are parts here where the light never gets in”, one knows that clearly the audience is being hit with a symbol for something much larger than a garden. When that section ends and they look out at the sea, noticing “The wind [over the water] is starting to pick up”, it’s a not so subtle indication of what is to come. That Debussy keeps the music often at a perceived low level and restrained helps add to the tension while the dialogue continues to sculpt the scene.

          It may sound odd to phrase it like this, but I just kept on thinking how in control of things Debussy is. Very deliberate and disciplined.

          This opera could be studied in literature courses but I think there’s an unfortunate segmentation of “literature” and opera. Could be studied in a philosophy course as well. I suspect if P&M ever turns up at a college it’s in the music department.

          There is a lot to think about with P&M.

          • oedipe

            I so agree with you! This opera is as much literature as it is music. The way to prepare the public would be to give a lecture or hand them a writeup about symbolism and the leading symbolist themes that undelie the text.

  • parpignol

    very fine review; I was also there on Friday, and was loving Rattle, even though I have always thought Levine was the greatest in this opera; and Finley’s performance was also great, showing remarkable stylistc range since we’ve now recently seen him giving great performances in NYC in Dr. Atomic and La Boheme before Pelleas! but time for a new production, the Miller production is dull, same crumbling castle we’ve seen in other Miller productions, but it was the only dull thing about Friday’s performance which was consistently gripping with no snoozing stretches. . .