Debussy / Pelléas et Mélisande / Mariinsky Theater 6-8-12

This experience was a little different. The other night at the ballet (I need to see more ballet in general, I think) we were half-surrounded by other English-speakers. Tonight, perhaps because of the nature of the opera, we were sitting in a sea of Francophones. Or perhaps not a sea. I mean, I suspect most of the audience was Russian. But a pool, at the very least.

There were two other English speakers within earshot. During the intermission I overheard them talking about the production. The man was telling the woman that he thought the staging was strange, all “semi-Soviet” and “where did the magic go?” (He also had trouble following the story, which was reasonable under the circumstances – the opera is in French, and the supertitles were in Russian, so you had to read the synopsis in the program carefully and take your chances. I was fine with this, but I can see how it could be frustrating if you want to catch every detail of the text. However. There is plenty of opera in the world with English supertitles – a little less English for a night or two won’t kill you, complaining guy!)

The production was a dark one, literally. The set was a sort of round dark space enclosed by beams that leaned inward. There was a stone well for Mélisande to lose her ring in, and a few other bits of furniture, and an iron balcony. The look was sort of dark industrial – the members of the court were dressed in work clothes with big aprons and dark scarves, the three bandits in the cave were three creepy figures in a coal cart, and so on. But it was not really intended to be time period specific: Pelléas’s mother Genevieve was dressed in a dress that looked like something from the 1870s or 1880s (with a rather steampunky-looking leather upper half to it) and Pelléas himself had a velvet jacket and white sleeves that looked like something from a similar age. The overall impression was that the kingdom in which the action takes place is a dark and grim one – this is a place where the life gets ground out of people. It’d be hard not to think that there is a modern political resonance to this, but the concept doesn’t do the opera any violence at all – after all, in the story, it’s a big deal to catch sight of the sun. I liked it.

Anastasia Kalgina (Melisande) had a light-ish, pretty sounding voice. You could argue that she lacked force, but I thought that the sound worked well for the general concept: visually, in terms of costuming and lighting, Melisande is this small, pale, vulnerable-looking figure, and the voice matched this. Oleg Sychov as the king, Arkel, was one of the highlights of this performance for me, particularly during the final act. I should also mention Konstantin Yefimov, the boy soprano who plays Yniold, the son of Melisande’s husband Goland. This kid is a talented actor – his scene with Melisande in Act IV where she’s sick and he’s trying to play and then gets frightened was very good. Yevgeny Ulanov as Goland was appropriately menacing.

Finally, I think this is the closest I have ever sat to the stage at an opera performance – the second row of the orchestra section, in the middle. It wasn’t as much louder as I expected, but you could hear everything and definitely see everything. I’m rather sad we don’t have any more tickets for any more music, but four nights out of five has been a little exhausting, so maybe that’s a good thing.