[Met Performance] CID:164120
Pelléas et Mélisande {49} The American Academy of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 12/1/1953.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
December 1, 1953


Pelléas.................Theodor Uppman
Mélisande...............Nadine Conner
Golaud..................Martial Singher
Arkel...................Jerome Hines
Geneviève...............Martha Lipton
Yniold..................Vilma Georgiou
Physician...............Luben Vichey

Conductor...............Pierre Monteux

Review of Max de Schauensee in the Evening Bulletin

Met Singers Take Honors in "Pelléas"

The Metropolitan Opera Association opened its 1953-54 Season of grand opera at the Academy of Music last night, with a performance of Claude Achille Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande" before a capacity audience.

The choice was a bold one on the part of manager Rudolf Bing, starting his fourth season with the Metropolitan, for "Pelléas" is a connoisseurs' opera, an opera for the few rather than for the many.

Philadelphia had not heard this utterly distinctive, lyric drama since March 21, 1944, when Bidu Sayao, Raoul Jobin, John Brownlee and Alexander Kipnis appeared in the principal roles.

Last night the music of "Pelléas" was most sensitively conducted by Pierre Monteux. The authority, the shimmering orchestral textures that the veteran conductor achieved, the atmosphere that he was able to evoke, made for a first class hearing of one of the rarest and most ephemeral of musical experiences.

Pleasing Orchestral Fabrics

The fabrics of this luminous orchestral tapestry were the evening's chief delight. The staging and some of the principal singers were another matter.

The staging left a great deal to be desired. It gave the impression of being a makeshift job, hurriedly and sometimes thoughtlessly put together. The big room in the castle was a tasteless job, the terrace was unevocative with fluted columns of some thick fabric to suggest trees. Even worse was the white satin Hollywood bed set in a dreary vault, on whose shimmering and slippery surface Mélisande died.

Though there is constant mention of the sea in Maeterlinck's text, and a constant evocation of it in Debussy's music, the scenic investiture rarely suggested it, except for one scene.

The lighting, coming down directly from above, was hard and very trying for the female members of the cast. In the scene in the grotto, when, the moon frees itself from a cloud, it was as though an electric light had suddenly been switched on which provoked a shock to the onlooker.

Stage Direction Uneven

Nor was Mr. Mr. Yannopoulos' stage direction free of blemish. When in the last act Arkel asks what is the matter, and the doctor answers "They are right," neither singer looked anywhere near the line of kneeling servants, who have divined that Mélisande has just died.

Theodor Uppman as Pelléas and Jerome Hines as Arkel carried off chief honors among the singers. Mr. Uppman's Pelléas was a wonderful combination of poignant immaturity and instinctive passion and sophistication. He seemed singularly right with his youthful, graceful movements and his touching and ardent delivery of the music.

Mr. Hines, though not too easy to understand, was a towering figure as the aged Arkel, and his noble voice adorned some of the most beautiful passages of the entire score with a grandiose sonority. If Mr. Hines would point up his diction, specially in some of Arkel's most telling lines, his impersonation would be quite magnificent.

Sincerity of Effort

The Mélisande of Nadine Conner was a disappointment. It gave a feeling of being compact, matter-of-fact and efficiently planned, which was fatal to the dream-world atmosphere. There was little of the elusive mystery suggested by Bori and, particularly, by the incomparable Mary Garden. Comparisons can be tiresome, but there are times when it is difficult not to feel them.

Miss Conner's wig was not becoming to her, and while one felt the sincerity of her efforts, one also felt that her Mélisande missed the mark by a considerable margin.

Singher presented a strange Golaud, not nearly so rough or primitive as it should have been. This was an elegant man, constantly conscious of his appearance. Mr. Singher's diction and style were the best of the cast, but his constant watching of the conductor detracted from the effectiveness of his portrayal.

Excellent indeed were the Genevieve of Martha Lipton and the Yniold of little Vilma Georgiou. The latter was the best Yniold in this reviewer's considerable experience with "Pelléas" A word also for Lubomir Vichegonov's nicely drawn physician.

Perfect performances of "Pelléas" are rare, but this is an opera, more than most, where near-perfection is to be ardently desired.

One came away from the Academy last night sorry that things were not better, but grateful to Mr. Bing for bringing us one of the great works of the operatic repertoire.

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