Pelléas et Mélisande, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Debussy's vision destroyed
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The Independent Culture

Four years ago, the Stuttgart Opera brought Handel's Alcina to the Edinburgh Festival. The producers were Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito. It was a killer. It's still joked about in the bars and bistros of the Scottish capital.

Four years ago, the Stuttgart Opera brought Handel's Alcina to the Edinburgh Festival. The producers were Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito. It was a killer. It's still joked about in the bars and bistros of the Scottish capital.

For some reason, the festival has chosen to bring back some more work by these two. Not content with making fools of the poor people of Stuttgart, they have now pitched their tents in Hanover, where they have done their worst with Debussy's visionary Pelléas et Mélisande.

Their technique is to take every stage direction, every word sung, and every gesture of the orchestra, and systematically ignore it. Luckily, Maeterlinck's play is lucid and crystalline. But there is an aesthetic question here. No artist - not even the composer or the dramatist - should force her ideas between the music and the listener. To do so is discourteous and vulgar.

And vulgar is what this performance was. Instead of the perplexity of a decent man confronted with a nameless wraith, recounted with the greatest discretion, we had a trivial dysfunctional marriage out of a soap opera.

Instead of a dramatic allegory of music itself (a favourite theme of the Symbolists) we had a sleazy wife-swap in an alternative-therapy commune.

The show was full of violence, including child abuse. Golaud finally threatened his wife with a gun. And Maeterlinck can never, never be funny.

His gentle seriousness evaporates when the audience starts to snigger. Much sniggering here, and one loud guffaw.

The Hanover State Opera is a half-decent provincial company, the sort of thing you might get in Wolverhampton or Bournemouth if the British took opera as seriously as the Germans. They have a good orchestra and can rustle a few good soloists. Alla Kravchuk, as Mélisande, had warmth and vocal resource, projecting ingenuous despair in spite of unbecoming costumes. The Pelléas, Will Hartmann, sang clearly, if a little drably, and he looked young and handsome (even wearing a wetsuit, or last year's combat trousers). Yniold was the soprano Sunhae Im. Ordered to portray a vile hyperactive brat, she still delivered a virtuosic performance.

The conductor, Shao-Chia Lü, was unobtrusive, thank goodness. There it stopped. Golaud (Oliver Zwarg) was heavy, lumpy and out of tune.

The Geneviève, Danielle Grima, sounded woolly, though the only singer with decent French. Arkel (Xiaoliang Li), in bad jeans, with a pouch of cannabis and a hair bow, was a rough and approximate artist.

The set, designed by Kazuko Watanabe, was a narrow white tunnel, like some kind of decontamination centre. It was visible from, say, one-third of the auditorium (and not from my perfectly good seat).

You can always tell when an opera producer doesn't really care: his singers stick their hands in their pockets. All hands were firmly in pockets in this production.

If you have a ticket for next Saturday, sell it. Preferably to someone who hasn't read this review.

Further performance on Saturday (0131 529 6000)

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