Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Debussy
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Pelléas et Mélisande
PERFORMER: Mireille Delunsch, Gérard Théruel, Armand Arapian, Gabriel Bacquier Choeur Régional Nord/Pas-de-Calais, Orchestre National de Lille-Région Nord/ Pas-de-Calais/Jean-Claude Casadesus
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660047/9
Because Pelléas et Mélisande deals with failures of communication, and because its characters inhabit a world of suggestiveness, where meanings are obscured and gestures thwarted, it is easy to caricature the opera as some kind of exploration of pre-Raphaelite innocence, all watery hues and muted tones. This recording gives a forceful reminder that the opera’s subject is sexual jealousy.

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Its grittiness lies partly in the authority of Jean-Claude Casadesus’s conducting – his focused use of rubato gives the work a sinewy energy – but mainly in the strong characterisations. Most striking are Gérard Théruel as Pelléas and Armand Arapian as Golaud (interestingly, both worked on Peter Brook’s Impressions de Pelléas).

In particular, Arapian brings a savage and dark intensity to Golaud; in this account, the emotional heart of the opera lies as much in his implacable and impetuous jealousy as with the eponymous lovers. Also impressive are Gabriel Bacquier’s Arkel, with his sad sense of the ineluctable, and Françoise Golfier’s uncannily boyish Yniold.

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The orchestral sound is sometimes rather subdued, and there are certainly more polished versions of this opera (Abbado’s and Karajan’s among them), but Naxos is to be commended for this idiomatic and dramatically compelling recording. William Humphreys-Jones