PELLEAS ET MELISANDE (Canadian Opera Company). To May 24. 416-363-8231. See listings. Rating: NNN
A fairy tale with echoes of Rapunzel and Camelot, Claude Debussy’s only opera, Pelléas Et Mélisande, is an often ravishing piece of orchestral music. Too bad it’s not a stronger piece of theatre.
The two title characters are locked in a love-and-jealousy triangle that also involves Golaud, Pelléas’s half-brother, who’s married to Mélisande, the mysterious woman he’s found wandering in a forest. Set mostly in the shadow-and-light kingdom ruled by Arkel, the opera plays out to an expectedly tragic conclusion.
Director Nicholas Muni does what he can to energize the mostly static piece. Dani Lyne’s gorgeous design (a blasted heath of a landscape, costumes that play with black and white, red and gold), effectively lit by Thomas C. Hase, makes a powerful statement on its own.
The singing is also evocative, Russell Braun and Isabel Bayrakdarian as the title figures sensual in their scenes together – the opera’s best moments. Pavlo Hunka makes a rightly gruff-voiced Golaud – in this production the final tragedy becomes his – and Richard Wiegold gives Arkel the gravitas of a benevolent old ruler.
But the music’s slow-flowing tidal movement takes us nowhere, failing to draw us into a gripping drama. The characters are always cool and at an emotional distance from the audience. Conductor Jan Latham-Koenig draws lush sounds from the orchestra, but those sounds could as effectively be heard in concert.