Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Album title:
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Claude Debussy
Pelléas et Mélisande
Stéphane Degout, Elena Tsallagiva, Vincent Le Texier, Anne Sofie von Otter, Franz-Josef Selig, Julie Mathevet, Jérôme Varnier; Orchestre & Choeur de l'opéra National de Paris/Philippe Jordan; Robert Wilson
Catalogue Number:
BBC Music Magazine
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Walton: Belshazzar's Feast; Symphony No. 1
next review Article


This is astonishing, though regrettably not for the right reasons. Any brand new DVD of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande is an enticing prospect. When it is as strongly and evenly cast as this 2012 production of the composer’s masterpiece concerning a love triangle between Pelléas, Mélisande and Golaud, then expectations run high. Even if the staging is abysmal, the screen can be switched off leaving excellent, surround-sound audio.

In fact, there is a cold beauty to the clean lines and blue lighting of director Robert Wilson’s production. Unlike some, it does not work against the drama, but it is minimalist to the point of absurdity, so does not work with the drama. The characters’ slow movements and lack of contact recall Japanese Noh theatre, which is interesting, but simply uninvolving here. Golaud’s response to Mélisande’s initial ‘Don’t touch me’ should be ‘no chance’. Pelléas is literally far from enveloped by Mélisande’s trailing hair, standing unmoved on the other side of the stage, while their impassioned embrace is reduced to a polite handshake. It is also too simplistic to dress Pelléas and Mélisande in white and Golaud in black.

So, in short, Wilson’s production misfires. But even those who are taken by it will still be frustrated, for the picture is repeatedly fuzzy, like a worn VHS recording from the 1980s. So how about simply switching one’s attention away from the visuals and concentrating just on the audio to enjoy the excellent cast and fine orchestral pacing? No joy here either, alas. Far from it, in fact. The biggest problem is not that it is mono (yes, mono), but that it distorts so frequently at relatively low levels. Behind the slick facade, this is a shoddy product.

Christopher Dingle