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Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Pelléas et Mélisande
Jacques Imbrailo - Pelléas
Michaela Selinger - Mélisande
Vincent le Texier - Golaud
Doris Soffel - Geneviève
Wolfgang Schöne - Arkel
Dominik Eberle - Yniold
Mateusz Kabala - Doctor
Opernchor des Aalto-Theaters
Essener Philharmoniker/Stefan Soltesz
Nikolaus Lehnhoff - Director
rec. live, Aalto-Musiktheater, Essen, 2012
Region Code 0, Aspect Ratio 16:9, Dolby 2.0 Stereo, DTS 5.1
ARTHAUS 101686 [151:00] 

This DVD from Essen is remarkable for capturing the performances of the two young leads in the main roles. Jacques Imbrailo’s Pelléas is young, impulsive and fuelled by an all-consuming passion. He manages to lighten his voice very impressively so as to convey the character’s youth and impetuosity, and while the high tessitura may stretch him slightly, that has the effect of conveying all the more powerfully the character’s straining at the edges of acceptable behaviour. He uses his youth to enrich his acting and he is marvellous to watch as well as to listen to, a look of bewilderment never far from his face. Michaela Selinger’s Mélisande is excellent too. She acts the role as if inhabiting it from a distance, and there is something separate, almost out-of-body about her character, reinforcing the fact that Mélisande simply does not fit in at Allemonde - nor, one suspects, anywhere else. She has a touch of the vamp about her, but primarily she seems distracted and distant from her surroundings. Selinger sings the role beautifully, but in the voice, too, there is a touch of coldness that enriches the character and the interpretation. The duets for Pelléas and Mélisande are, consequently, the highlights. They are playful yet knowing in the scene by the well, passionate in the tower scene and crackling with tension in their final duet in Act 4, encompassing all the smouldering desire that the music conveys so powerfully.
 
Vincent le Texier is excellent as Golaud. He plays the role as clearly more mature - and, therefore, more alienated - than his wife and brother. However, the voice remains flexible and vigorous, muscular when necessary but deflated in the final act. He is showing himself to be a master in this tricky role; his performance in Paris was also top-notch. The older pair are disappointing, though: Doris Soffel has an uncomfortable warble in her voice, and Wolfgang Schöne sounds unfocused, even slightly desiccated as Arkel. It’s good to have a boy treble as Yniold, though bizarrely they cut Yniold’s scene with the shepherd for no good reason.
 
Lehnhoff’s production is very good, and infinitely preferable to Wilson’s mess in Paris. He adopts a minimalist approach, with large-scale sets evoking closed interiors and effective lighting to evoke the outdoor spaces. He follows the story pretty precisely, giving us blind beggars, a tower and some impressive hair, among other features. The production is well imagined for DVD. However, on three occasions some rather irritating animations are superimposed onto the screen - wafting hair in the tower scene, for example. I found this distracting and unnecessary, as it only draws attention to the filmic device. However, the austerity of the approach works well, and the simplicity of the sets allows the intensity of the acting to crackle all the more.
 
This may beat Jordan’s Paris performance, but it still doesn’t beat the finest DVD of Pelléas, which remains Boulez’s WNO performance, still first rate after all these years.
 
Simon Thompson