Pélleas et Mélisande

DORA AWARD (Toronto), Nomination for Best Production of the Year (2008)


PÉLLEAS ET MÉLISANDE by Claude Debussy, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
Conductor: Richard Bradshaw/Stéphane Denève/Jan Latham-Koenig
Cast: Pederson/Pitman-Jennings/Hunka, Szmytka/Donose/Bayrakdarian, LaPointe/Braun, Bybee/Dever, Kavrakos/Smith/Wiegold
Production: D. Lyne (scenery/clothes), P. Mathieson/T. C. Hase (lighting), J. Geier (hair/make-up)
photos courtesy of Michael Cooper

Comparative Review: English National Opera, Canadian Opera Company and Metropolitan Opera
“In Toronto, Nicholas Muni and his designer, Dany Lyne, transposed Pelléas from medieval literalism not into (Jonathon) Miller’s or (Graham) Vick’s late nineteenth century or (Richard) Jones’ or (Peter) Sellars’  late twentieth century specifics, but into a mysterious, beautiful, in some ways Japanese-seeming “timeless” world. Passions were accurately portrayed, powerfully but without overstatement. In the theater, Toronto’s Pelléas, refined, alert and mysterious, came closest to a new vision of the opera that seemed fresh and brave but not false, precise but never pedantic. Heavier, less subtly Debussyan hands were laid on both drama and music in London and New York, but in all three shows there was much to admire and enjoy.”
Andrew Porter, London Times (May, 2000)

“Elusive” is an adjective always used about Claude Debussy’s 1902 opera Pelléas et Mélisande, but in the Canadian Opera Company’s current production a first-rate cast, intriguing design and insightful direction bring out the work’s strange beauty and make it dramatically compelling. This is the first time this critic has been so drawn into this opera’s world of mystery and half-light. Debussy basically set Maurice Maeterlinck’s influential 1893 symbolist play of the same name, with a few excisions, to music. In both, all the characters sense, even in their happiest moments, that they are acting out a predetermined destiny. Director Nicholas Muni’s great insight is to allow the three principal characters at least the illusion they are acting of their own free will. Dany Lyne’s design imagines the sumptuous Indo-Chinese garbed court of Allemonde living on a kind of pier to separate themselves from the blasted landscape of disease and poverty below them. This gives the fairy tale a political edge and ultimately highlights the futility of such effort…it offers entrance to a uniquely lush sound-world that corresponds perfectly with a universe governed by powerful unknown forces that in many ways is more “real” than the prosaic, over-explained world we call “reality.”
Christopher Hoile, Opera News (July, 2008)

“…PÉLLEAS ET MÉLISANDE apparently remains caviar for the gourmand, rather than bread and butter for the masses. I am hard pressed to quite understand why, especially when the work is treated to such a world class production as mounted here by Canadian Opera Company. Director Nicholas Muni made masterful use of every playing space and level available to him; he created memorable, chills-inducing stage pictures and groupings through well-motivated blocking; and he could give a masters class on effective character development and interaction. My God, here is a director who not only understands the work, but serves it! Let’s hope his creative philosophy starts an epidemic in the opera world. For this is decidedly a brilliant mounting of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande , rather than Muni’s. Would that all directors “got” that difference. Dany Lyne’s gorgeous design — ethereal, timeless and haunting — provided the perfect backdrop and playing environment for Debussy’s masterpiece. Scrims, opaque spun fiberglass drops, and a cyclorama fronted by expressive filigreed tree branches, were inventively lit by Thomas C. Hase with his perfectly judged special effects and a highly creative design.”
James Sohre, Opera Today (May, 2008)

“The highlight of the Canadian Opera’s spring season was a superb new production of Pelléas et Mélisande. A key element in the production’s success was the close collaboration between conductor Richard Bradshaw, producer Nicholas Muni and the young Toronto designer, Dany Lyne. The brilliant set took us into a world of shifting darkness and light. A profoundly moving evening in the theater.
Peter Dyson, London OPERA (July, 2000)

“Canadian Opera Company’s first-ever Pelléas et Mélisande proved an absorbing, subtly considered performance that met Debussy’s challenging ambiguities with musical maturity and theatrical sophistication (director Nicholas Muni). Chief among the demands of any interpretation of this work is the creation of a world, as well as a level of reality, for its characters. Here the director imagined the world from a Japanese and East Asian iconic imagery. The production’s nuanced tension between interior and exterior worlds was developed with tender psychological detail and spellbinding visual moments. This was a compelling world that drew the audience in by the conviction of all the artists involved.”
Urja Kareda, Opera News  (July, 2000)

“Even if the Canadian Opera Company’s first-ever performance of Pelléas et Mélisande had only been so-so, it would have been a major event. But the production is vocally, theatrically and visually magnificent—a real triumph for the company, which on this occasion includes director Nicholas Muni and designer Dany Lyne. As the opera unfolded, Mélisande rightly remained an enigma; you felt that she was neither an evil temptress nor a naïve child, but a projection of whatever men want to see. Pelléas et Mélisande cannot be an easy opera to stage…it hinges on ambiguities, in keeping with the symbolist poet’s belief that true emotions can only be reached, in art, through apparent vagueness. I loved the creative team’s response to these challenges. A black bridge, running the width of the stage, dominated the set. All the action in the castle took place on this precarious walkway, which seemed to suspend the principal singers in a perpetual state of danger, limitation and transition. The opening of Act III, where Pelléas, outside of one of the castle’s turrets, “seduces” Mélisande within, was a highlight of Muni’s staging. He treated the episode as a shared fantasy, avoiding the literal (and theatrically awkward) contact between the two that supposedly takes place when Mélisande, Rapunzel-like, lets down her hair and Pelléas caresses it. The music and acting ensured that even without physical contact, the scene was incredibly erotic; equally importantly, it made Pelléas and Mélisande fit Golaud’s description of them as children playing at things they don’t understand.”
Tamara Bernstein, (Canadian) National Post (April, 2000)

“New to the Cincinnati Opera was Pelléas et Mélisande. Muni’s detailed staging illuminated many a dramatic subtlety, probing the psychological depths, projecting an oppressive tension and an overwhelming sadness and feeling of doom.”
Charles Parsons, American Record Guide (December, 2ooo)

“The quality of production had everything to do with its success, as did the excellent cast, the Cincinnati Symphony led by guest conductor Stéphane Denève and opera artistic director Nicholas Muni’s intelligent staging. The singers, including French Canadian tenor Jean-Francois LaPointe as an ardent Pelléas, were superb and Muni’s characterizations gave the audience a lot to chew on.”
Mary Ellyn Hutton, Cincinnati Post (July, 2000)

“It took almost a century for Debussy’s only opera to come to Cincinnati. Nicholas Muni’s production, originally staged for the Canadian Opera Company, was provocative and a triumph for Cincinnati Opera.”
Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer (July, 2000)

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