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Je suis heureuse ici

This week, Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin has been unusually generous, sharing a performance of Pelléas et Mélisande featuring the dream pairing of Simon Keenlyside and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.  

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Symphony Hall, Boston
18 October 2003

Mélisande – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
Pelléas – Simon Keenlyside
Golaud – Gerald Finley
Arkel – John Tomlinson
Geneviève – Nathalie Stutzmann
Yniold – James Danner


  • 1
    Ilka Saro says:

    Dream cast!

    Between the Leitmetzerin posts and the Richter posts I have all my listening for the week!

  • 2
    SilvestriWoman says:

    Not to mention Finley and Tomlinson! Oh, my… This is one for the ages.

  • 3
    manou says:

    Here is an operatic review (read the blogger’s disclaimer first)

    • 3.1
      Regina delle fate says:

      lol Manou -- the disclaimer is classic!

      • 3.1.1
        MontyNostry says:

        The best bit is:
        ‘Her acting ran the gamut from “Dude, I am so high right now” to a general wistfulness, but I think Mélisande should be more layered than that; long, gorgeous hair can only get you so far in life.’

          Camille says:

          Another screamer: “Hunt-Lieberson looked like the hypothetical love-child of Jane Curtin and Frederica von Stade, and she wore a plain, cream dress.”

          The ‘disclaimer’ is also well worth reiterating:

          “I am an extremely cranky opera fan who writes long, often ranting reviews of the operas I see. Since LA isn’t exactly the opera capital of the world, I’ll sometimes supplement the opera reviews with reviews of opera recordings or DVDs. Or not. I have no musical training and am somewhat tone-deaf, so take my musical pronouncements with a grain of salt.”

          A true parterrean.
          I especially loved the part about being ‘tone-deaf’.
          Once upon a time I, too, was an extremely cranky opera-goer in L.A., so I have full sympathies for this fellow opera-goer.

          Thanks be once again to Mme. manou for unearthing this shard ‘neath the Parthenon.

  • 4
    redbear says:

    In exactly seven days, Pelleas returns to the Comique. A different kind of dream cast: Louis Langrée conducting a production from 2010 by Stéphane Braunschweig with Phillip Addis and Karen Vourc’h. Both are young enough and Canadian Addis gets as close to a Bariton-Martin as you are likely to hear.

    • 4.1
      Ilka Saro says:

      Would love to hear Pelleas a la Langrée. Probably not in NYC anytime soon.

    • 4.2
      kashania says:

      Addis has a great voice. He did Pelleas at the Comique just a few years ago.

    • 4.3
      oedipe says:

      Louis Langrée recently gave an interview to a French opera magazine and said that his desert island opera is Pelléas. He wouldn’t win a popularity contest on Parterre, would he!

      • 4.3.1
        kashania says:

        It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pelleas is hated on parterre. If only it made us horny…

          Batty Masetto says:

          Thank goodness we have Oedipe to remind us that the ancient French art of médisance didn’t die out in the Revolution.

          oedipe says:

          Oh, silly me! I completely forgot about GCR, who used to be on Parterre and who shared Langrée’s enthusiasm for Pelléas; and it made him very popular on Parterre indeed!

          And it’s true: if Jonas sang Pelléas, that would be a different story altogether, he would almost make people forget what a boring opera it is.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Yes, it was because GCR liked Pelleas that his posts were unpopular. That was definitely why.

            • kashania says:

              And GCR was always quick to highlight the *sensuality* of the opera which would’ve covered off the whole horny angle.

            • Regina delle fate says:

              I’m beginning to miss GCR -- especially as his disappearance has closed down the restaurant at Genevieve’s Rumpus Room. FM is also missing those culinary ideas.

            • Camille says:

              I DO hope that Genevieve’s Castle Room is doing all right and wish she/he/it will at least listen to this recording of the true connoisseur’s number one opera.

              Nota bene: Genevieve’s Rumpus Room has—apparently—been permanently closed down as a watering hole where one wines and dines. Now it is a ‘born-again’ watering hole and Temple of Transmogrification.

              A terrible loss to lovers of fine dining on Hiway 13, but the adamant and inviolable will of Madame Genevieve is absolute and final. Batty has badgered her, on our collective account, but even his considerably mellifluous and honeyed entreaties have fallen on deaf ears. Sad.

          • Batty Masetto says:

            You got to ac-cen-tuate the negative
            E-lim-inate the positive
            And latch on to the corro-ho-sive
            Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

          • Regina delle fate says:

            I think I’d rather hear Jonas as Golaud. :)

          • Rackon says:

            Uh oh, Jonas admires Pelleas and has, in fact, expressed an interest in singing it.

            I don’t find P&M boring at all, no more than Tristan or Parsifal. I think it is some of the most gorgeous music ever written. To sing it in the chorus is oositively transporting.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Sorry what? It takes more than 2 off-stage lines to transport me, I’m afraid, but I always was high maintenance.

          oedipe says:

          It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pelleas is hated on parterre.

          These are indeed the EXACT WORDS I’ve used, no distorsion of discourse here. Except on my part, of course.

          If there was ever a widely held Pelléas love expressed on Parterre, I sure as hell missed it.

          • La Cieca says:

            I notice you’re whining a lot lately. It’s not pleasant.

            • oedipe says:

              Let’s see: lately I have posted a lot about some outstanding Werther performances in Paris (with Alagna) that have made a big impression on the French audience. Is that the “whining” that is “not pleasant”? If my tastes and opinions are too offensive, do tell me and I will stop posting on Parterre right away, it’s OK with me.

          • tornado12 says:

            I love Pelléas. Sadly Madame Hannigan won’t sing it until 2016…
            Btw: How can anyone even think that it is boring? There was never more glorious music in any opera. I don’t know of any better description of the Sun over the sea (and the wind blowing) than the music accompanying “Est-ce le soleil qui se couche?” in the fifth act. Or just the third scene of the second act: pure magic.

            • Buster says:

              Or the murder, the most shocking one in all opera.

            • kashania says:

              I’m one of those people who has to be informed by others when an opera (or film or play) is boring, cause I have a much different tolerance for what is considered slow moving. I was enchanted by P & M the very first time I saw it (which was also my first hearing of the work) and didn’t find it boring at all.

            • tornado12 says:

              Actually there is also that most beautiful death of all time (I mean the whole fifth act). But that “Est-ce le soleil qui se couche?” maybe one of my favorite bars in all music. Does anybody else here know that Karajan concert performance from RAI Roma? It’s one of the best recordings made by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf who is not really close to being my favorite singers but there are some truly magical moments. My other favorite is the Kubelik recording (with Gedda, Donath and Fischer-Dieskau). He does create wonders with that score.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              I was too Kashania -- loved it from start to finish. I’ve been bored by it every time since, though, for some reason.

  • 5
    MontyNostry says:

    I have to say I have trouble imagining LHL as Mélisande -- I always find there is an essential serenity in her voice that seems at odds with the character’s nature.

    • 5.1
      kashania says:

      I haven’t heard it yet, but I think that LHL was equally good at portraying an inner intensity that might have come in handy in portraying Melisande’s troubled state of mind.

    • 5.2
      Regina delle fate says:

      Yes, Monty, the more I see P & M, the more I think of Mélisande as a conniving little madam and a stranger to the truth.

      • 5.2.1
        MontyNostry says:

        I agree with you, Regina, but I don’t think she realises it. That’s what makes her so dangerous. She’s one of those ‘victims’ who ends up destroying other people. And I’m not sure how ‘intense’ Mélisande is kashi … There’s an emptiness about her. It really is a fascinating piece.

  • 6
    Krunoslav says:

    I heard this live in Boston and it was a wonderful performance, though for Tomlinson at that point a staged show would have been better, though Arkel is O-L-D.

    I think LHL worked very well as Melisande in concert but might not--like Stratas before her- have worked in it onstage because she was so *centered* as a performer. With Stratas one felt she could have decked Golaud and taken over the castle.

    LHL is so far my second-best Melisande, after Pilou who was just exquisite. I also liked Flicka and even la Petibon, whose stage performances usually make me want to throw things. Keenlyside my best baritone Pelleas, with Kevin Greenlaw and Degout next; Richard Croft and then William Burden the best tenors I’ve seen do the part. Best Golaud: van Dam, then Finley. Best conducting: Boulez.

    • 6.1
      armerjacquino says:

      No love for Soderstrom? I think her Melisande is wonderful. Shirley ain’t bad either.

      • 6.1.1
        Krunoslav says:

        Ah, I was speaking only of live performances I have experienced.

        If I want to listen to PELLEAS at home I’ll go for the old French set with Irene Joachim and Jacques Jansen under Desormiere. Both the Kubelik and that Boulez version with Soderstrom and Shirley are well worth hearing, but to me the old set in incomparable.

    • 6.2
      oedipe says:


      I agree with all your top picks, except for Greenlaw, whom I don’t know. And I don’t know about the tenors either, because I am not familiar enough with the tenor version.

      Also, I was very impressed with Elena Tsallagova in the ONP revival a couple of years ago. She is so cool and ethereal -in terms of both voice and stage presence- that she seemed like the ideal Mélisande.

  • 7
    Buster says:

    Best Golaud: Laurent Naouri
    Best Genevieve: Yvonne Minton
    Best Melisande: Johanette Zomer
    Best Pelleas: Jerry Hadley (high) and Jean-François Lapointe (low)
    Best conductor: Serge Baudo

    • 7.1
      Clita del Toro says:

      My fav Mélisande is VdlA.

      • 7.1.1
        Buster says:

        How was she in the house, Clita?

        It is not an opera I have seen many times, but I have been very lucky with singers and conductors thus far. Teresa Stratas -- towards the end of her career, was fabulous too.

          Clita del Toro says:

          She was wonderful. I think others in the cast were Gedda and London. She is the only one I have ever seen live.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            I guess I was wrong. I looked it up. Uppmann was the Pelléas with VdlA. I know I saw Gedda in the role--it must have been with London and Moffo?? I don’t however remember seeing Moffo as Mélisand? lol She would not be my first choice for that role. ;)

          • Buster says:

            Thanks Clita!

            There is another Melisande on my wishlist: Denise Duval. Anyone heard her recording?

      • 7.1.2
        Feldmarschallin says:

        Clita I like you more and more. I love VdlA as Mélisande and also adore Schwarzkopf in the role. Those are the only two recordings I can listen to. If Jonas decides to sing it I would go.

    • 7.2
      Ilka Saro says:

      Flicka was a very convincing Melisande as well. Paired with the towering Jose Van Dam as Golaud, those were some evenings to remember from the 80s Met. Some may think this opera dull, but even with my crappy French and zero subtitles back in the 80s, I was fascinated by the piece with Von Stade and Van Dam, and stood through at least 3 performances.

      • 7.2.1
        Clita del Toro says:

        I adore José van Dam!

          Ilka Saro says:

          I count a handful of great singing actors I have seen in my time. Jose Van Dam is one, and Pablo Elvira is another. Total package. In her day, and in the right parts, Karita Mattila is another.

          • Rowna says:

            Singing/actors could be an entire thread! Although I didn’t see her do it live, Diana Damrau made an awful lot of QOTN which I never saw so well acted. And she can lose herself in so many roles -- I totally admire her for that. On the other end of the spectrum is Poplovskaya -- a fantastic actress whose vocal assets have diminished beyond repair. I also always love to watch Bryn Terfel. I have a list way too long to post, but maybe La Cieca will let us have a go around at this, unless I have missed one, having joined just about 2 years ago.

            • PetertheModest says:

              Not “beyond repair”, I should hope. Here’s an interesting analysis of Popsy’s vocal problems, -- -- with the suggestion she find someone who can re-build her voice, but saying that Mrs. Johnson is no longer with us. Who is Mrs. Johnson ?

              The reviewer suggests that Poplavskaya should examine and alter the very basis of her technique.

              As singing actors go, Waltraud Meier should qualify. She is simply amazing as Kundry:

            • olliedawg says:

              What about Hildegard Behrens and those crazy hands and hair in Idomeneo??? Couldn’t stand her voice, but also couldn’t take my eyes off her.

            • operadunce says:

              Perhaps Mrs Johnson is the late Beverly Johnson, Renee Fleming’s teacher for many years.

            • la vociaccia says:

              Correct, Operadunce. And the reference is due to Mrs Johnson being famous, among many things, for being the teacher many notable singers in vocal trouble would to go to for help. Some of the singers who studied with her mid-career were Evelyn Lear, Renata Tebaldi, and Anna Moffo.

            • PetertheModest says:

              Beverley Peck Johnson, singing teacher, lived to the ripe old age of 96:

              Sadly, no longer with us. So, who at present might be her successor, as it were, as the vocal coach singers go to nowadays with their problems ?

            • PetertheModest says:

              Here’s a fabulous Liebestod from Meier, a totally different characterisation from her Kundry:

              I like the way the blood suddenly comes down her face as well.

              The best singer/actors can change themselves chameleon-like for the role they are undertaking. Dare I say it, Poplavskaya does this. Unfortunately, there is such a gulf between her acting ability and her singing. How can someone be the best actor in a production but also the worst singer ?

          • olliedawg says:

            How’s about Teresa Stratas? Her “Suor Angelica” devastated me. I had to walk out of the theater to gulp the cold night air just to stop crying. How did all that sound come out of such a tiny person?

            I’ll mention Troyanos again (I have in another post) — anyone see her Sesto in La Clemenza? Totally convincing and involving and in the moment.

            Finally, yes, Van Dam…that guy blew me away.

            • Rowna says:

              So many comments . . . so little time. Re Stratas -- I honestly can’t comment about her singing as I was always so mesmerized by her acting. I think she was pretty darned good, but who cared? She sold every part she did. I was not a fan of the vocal Behrens, hence, I just didn’t like her, period. Please, no revolutions here -- these are just personal opinions. Re the article on Onegin and Poplavskaya -- reviewer didn’t think much of her singing either. And not to cause any more commotion, I think that Kaufmann is a very invested interpreter of his music, one of the reasons I adore him. Some singers just steal the show a la Pisaroni in Giovanni. I think he is a very fine singer, but not over the top -- yet his charm and fluency in the recits made him a show stopper. And then there was Rysanek . . .

          • armerjacquino says:

            Desderi is top of my list.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Van Dam was a marvellous Wozzeck in London in the 80s. I was an idiot and didn’t go and see his Golaud in Paris when I was there in 1997 because it was (I think) a Robert Wilson production and the Mélisande was Dawn Upshaw, to whom I have always been somewhat allergic. The weather was also unseasonably hot and I didn’t fancy sitting in a theatre -- even the magnificent Palais Garnier. A cause for regret ever since!

      • 7.2.2
        PetertheModest says:

        Flicka and Van Dam in Figaro in 1980:

      • 7.2.3
        olliedawg says:

        Yup, I saw Flicka and Van Dam production, too (who was the tenor?), and while I thought she and he were in great voice (Flicka could do melancholy like no one’s business IMHO), and the music has great stretches of incredible, mouth-watering beauty, I couldn’t make it through the entire opera, although listening to the opening of the audio clip makes me want to try again. It was definitely one of the highlights of an otherwise dreary stretch at the 1980s Met. Thanks for reminding me of two great performers, Ilka Saro.

        Before I forget, and apropos of absolutely nothing on this thread, when will we celebrate the singer who made me an opera fanatic of me, and had me leaving a pretty good production of “Don Carlo” babbling to my companion, “If that’s what opera is like, I’m in!!!”…no other than Tatiana Troyanos. She could perk up an otherwise dull Saturday matinee with a wave of her hand (or, in the case of DC, a flick of her fan)…I miss her intensity and bravado.

        …but I digress…

          Ilka Saro says:

          The Pelleas in those 1988 Met perfs was Douglas Ahlstedt. He is a good example of an excellent singer with a rather unpleasant voice. His French was clear as a bell, and he understood the poetry of the text. He had a solid lower range, which really helps in that role. And when he went above the staff, it was squawky.

          I saw that cast 3 times, and (for instance) each time Ahlstedt sang “Tu es ma prisonnière cette nuit; toute la nuit, toute la nuit” I was swept away by the beauty of it. And a not-pretty voice with squawky top. It was a toss up. Some people didn’t like him. I found his ugly tone forgivable.

          • Hippolyte says:

            Ahlstedt was a replacement for Anthony Rolfe Johnson who was supposed to make his MET debut in the role and was reported as ailing. Rolfe Johnson I believe never ended up singing Pelleas anywhere.

  • 8
    neiln007 says:

    Around this time, the superb Benita Valente performed Pelleas with the Philadelphia Orchestra and there was a famous mass exodus after the second act. The theater was almost empty. When Lorraine performed this at Carnegie, people begged for tickets outside the way they used to when Solti and the Chicago Symphony came to NYC. No one left the hall. Lorraine was very special in this part. I hope some folks will recall another very special Melisande -Patricia Brooks at NYCO.

    • 8.1
      Rowna says:

      Tears come to my eyes when I remember Miss Brooks -- such a fantastic Violetta! I worked for her manager, and her dad used to come to the office quite a lot to help with her publicity. I can’t comment on the criteria the Met had in place at the time she sang, but I always felt she was got a bum deal never singing there.

  • 9
    tornado12 says:

    I loved Christiane Karg as the chain-smoking Mélisande in Frankfurt. That staging was magical (and with a wonderful Christian Gerhaher as Pelléas). There was only the house (Allemonde), and the dark outside. And outside it was sometimes snowing and there were ghosts walking around. I never forget that last picture of the house drifting away, Mélisande walking into the dark to Pelléas, almost touching him, but only almost…
    There was also that wonderful idea that in the fourth act (at the end of the love duet) the time is going faster for Mélisande and Pelléas, so Golaud is approaching them in slow motion. In the moment he strikes Pelléas the time is normal again. I always found it quite odd that Golaud left them so much time to kiss each other, after he sees them seeing him with the epée.
    Anyway, can’t wait to hear Karg again (I think next season in Hamburg).

    • 9.1
      Buster says:

      Karg was an absolute delight in the Waltz Rosenkavalier. Would love to see her as Melisande!

      • 9.1.1
        tornado12 says:

        She has a fantastically clear french diction, one can understand every word and her voice just carries even with the softest pianissimo.

  • 10
    manou says:

    If anyone is itching to read the Maeterlinck play, the whole text is here (en Français):

  • 11
    -Ed. says:

    I miss LHL every day.

    • 11.1
      Tamino says:

      Thanks for posting this!

      I kick myself for not having gone to these performances when I had a chance, and also her final Gurrelieder performances with BSO.

      But I was fortunate to have heard her many times, and to have been a chorister in many of her performances at Emmanuel Music and elsewhere.

      RIP, Lorraine.

  • 12
    Krunoslav says:

    I am *not* happy here, Valter. I vant to be back in Silesia. Here they tolerate poor people and cripples in the castle. Not like the old days! And vat is the obsession with long hair, if it is not blonde??? Other hair has practical applications. One doesn’ t lose rings-- one melts them down. And just how was la Joachim (given her ancestry) allowed to escape my comrades?

  • 13
    kashania says:

    What a marvelous performance. Thank you Marianne and La Cieca (as always).