Menage a Trois at the Castle?

Will Liverman as Pelléas and Sydney Mancasola as Mélisande in LA Opera's 2023 production of "Pelléas et Mélisande"

In French composer Claude DeBussy’s Pelleas et Melisande, while out hunting Prince Golaud of Allemonde (Iowa bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen) stumbles upon Melisande (California soprano Sydney Mancasola) in the forest. They’re both lost and by the time the next scene takes place, we learn they have married. The couple have moved into King Arkel’s (Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto) castle, where Melisande proceeds to spend an inordinate amount of time with Golaud’s half-brother, Pelleas (Chicago baritone Will Liverman).
Golaud suspects that his wife is having an affair with his half-brother and, shall we say, complications ensure. Are they, or aren’t they? To this reviewer, the whole premise of the plot is senseless, unless Meilsande and Pelleas are indeed having a sexual relationship.
Pelleas et Melisande is the darkest, most tragic opera I’ve ever seen, with the possible exception of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, which adapted Henry James’ creepy novel about (as I recall) incest and underaged sex, and LA Opera mounted circa 2011. The sets by British designer Rae Smith, which mostly depict the woods and the castle, are bleak, as is the lighting by England’s Paule Constable and Mexico’s Pablo Santiago. The music by DeBussy (who adapted Maurice Maeterlinck’s play of the same name) is also decidedly downbeat and portentous, with lots of drums and brass.
James Conlon conducted the LA Opera Orchestra, Montana’s Jeremy Frank directed the chorus and the three hour-plus opera with one intermission was helmed by English director Leah Hausman. There are lots of scenic transitions in Pelleas et Melisande and this production uses an innovative transitional technique to move the action along onstage, from scene to scene. It is similar to an old cinematic technique called “Iris In” and “Iris Out”, which silent movie directors like D.W. Griffith used, and I think some of the artsy French New Wave cineastes did, too. Onscreen it has a similar look to a Zoom In and Zoom Out, although they are done very differently. And of course, the stagecraft version is altogether accomplished in another way, using the curtains.
Pelleas et Melisande, is being performed April 5, April 8 and April 13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 16 at 2:00 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA, 90012. For tickets: (213)972-8001. Pelleas et Melisande is sung in French, with English supertitles.


Photo credit Craig T Mathew