Pelleas et Melisande, Britten Theatre, opera review: This show’s one remediable weakness lies in the pit

Jonathan Berman’s conducting is a rather coarse-grained affair: he has yet to unlock the beauties latent in Debussy’s exquisitely calibrated score

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The Independent Culture

In a typically bold move, English Touring Opera have opened their autumn season with a pocket version of Pelleas et Melisande in Annalies Van Parys’s twelve-instrument reduction, and by and large James Conway’s production works well.

We may wonder why an up-ended filing-cabinet should be pressed into service as the single all-purpose prop in the story’s fantastical landscape of grottoes, lakes, and fountains, and the mise-en-scene really does suggest a cut-price roadshow, but Mark Howland’s subtle lighting faithfully reflects the now-gentle, now-furious fluctuations of the score.

In this somnambulistic tragedy all are victims, and its roles leave the singers cruelly exposed, but there’s no weak link in ETO’s chain. Michael Druiett’s Arkel is every inch the patriarch, while Helen Johnson infuses the rather thankless role of Genevieve with busy conviction. Jonathan McGovern's clean-cut, brightly-sung Pelleas makes a nice foil to Susanna Hurrell’s fragile and fluttery Melisande, and together they make a poignantly star-cross’d pair; Lauren Zolezzi’s Yniold is a convincingly childlike creation, while Stephan Loges’s resonantly-sung Golaud radiates masochistic pathos from the start.

This show’s one remediable weakness lies in the pit. At present, Jonathan Berman’s conducting is a rather coarse-grained affair: he has yet to unlock the beauties latent in Debussy’s exquisitely calibrated score. 

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