The Flemish Opera (Opera Vlaanderen) has recently performed Claude Debussy’s Pelléas and Melisande in Antwerp, in an unconventional version, a collaboration between international artists from different artistic backgrounds. The opera will then be performed in Gent from the 23rd of February
In this year 2018, which marks the 100th anniversary of Claude Debussy’s death, several opera houses presented his famous (and only) opera, based on the symbolist play by the Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck.
The Flemish Opera has decided to give Pelléas et Mélisande a new energy by relying on the artistic collaboration between Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Damien Jalet and Marina Abramović, who together created a new Bolero, presented at the Opera of Paris in 2013.
The two choreographers and the Serbian performing artist are joined by the Italian video-artist Marco Brambilla and the Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, known for dressing Björk and Lady Gaga.
Thanks to a combination of videos displayed on a round screen, a live set composed by eight dancers and a science-fiction scenography, the outcome is impressive.
Brambilla’s videos, created from recordings made by NASA’s Hubble Telescope, show nebulae and galaxies, stars and black holes intertwining to create the illusion of a great eye looking at us.
According to the narrative, the different shapes and colours are at once descriptive, fancyful or threatening, in coherence with the decorations and lights.
Stalactites and stalagmites with phallic shapes decorate the scene, underlining the masculine grip on the frail protagonist, not only her husband’s, but also old Arkel’s, who shows her a very ambiguous attachment.
Golaud’s aggressivity is heightened by the threatening presence of dancers who, like a Greek choir, comment on the action and emphasize the characters’ feelings.
The constant metamorphosis of the dancers, with their sculpted and flexible bodies, creates intriguing and consistent tableaux vivants, sending back to ancient Greek sculpture or to Debussy’s contemporary symbolist aesthetics.
The imagination of the designers led them to portray Mélisande’s long hair as silver yarns, sparkling under the lights by Urs Schönebaum. The dancers bring them to life, moving around, intertwining them like a spider’s web, stretching them out or squeezing them around the lovely protagonist’s neck, again mirroring the plot.
Norwegian soprano Mari Eriksmoen is a superb Mélisande with an extra-terrestrial look, to which her futuristic dress and shoes also contribute. Her voice is ethereal and well-balanced and her French is flawless, which is not the case for the rest of the cast, less understandable.
The South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo is a charming and naïve Pelléas unable to escape his brother’s tricks, a very punchy Leigh Melrose. His Golaud is brutal and despicable and even when repented, he does not provoke any empathy. Susan Maclean‘s Geneviève is very convincing, as is Matthew Best‘s Arkel, with his remarkable depth of tone.
Anat Edri portrays Golaud’s son in a compelling and plausible way, for the pleasure of those who don’t like children’s high voices, like the author of these lines.
One will notice her ease in the air “Oh, this stone is heavy”, sung sitting on a stone/world carried by the dancers/Atlas.
In the pit, Alejo Pérez’s direction accentuates the mysterious and timeless dimension of Debussy’s music, and underscores its dramatic character, successfully and heart-wrenching.