[Met Performance] CID:291210
Pelléas et Mélisande {86} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/18/1988.


Metropolitan Opera House
January 18, 1988


Pelléas.................Douglas Ahlstedt
Mélisande...............Frederica von Stade
Golaud..................José Van Dam
Arkel...................John Macurdy
Geneviève...............Jocelyne Taillon
Yniold..................Clark Utterback
Physician...............Harry Dworchak
Shepherd................Philip Cokorinos

Conductor...............James Levine

Review of Martin Mayer in Opera (UK)

New York. Frederica von Stade would not be everyone's first choice for Mélisande. The vocal register is wrong, and the stage persona is not in the least fragile. She had never sung the role before in New York, though the METROPOLITAN is her home house and has long made something of a speciality of "Pelléas et Mélisande" (it was Giulio Gatti-Casazza's favourite opera). Von Stade is, however, not only a great artist but something of a specialist in French song; her performance of Chausson's "Chanson perpetuelle" with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center still rings in the ears 13 years later. And she very much wanted to do the role. Lesson to opera managers: when a great artist with specific feel for the style and language really wants to do something, let her do it, please. On January 18 Von Stade was an exquisite Mélisande in a perfectly measured, wonderfully delicate but never perfumed performance.

Jose van Dam was the ideal Golaud: captivated, then weary, then menacing, finally violent. He sang with extraordinary variety of tone and dramatic impression, and matched von Stade in his declamation of Maeterlinck's poetry. Douglas Ahlstedt, substituting for Anthony Rolfe Johnson, whose Metropolitan debut was postponed by illness, is a high tenor, lightweight for Pelléas vocally, but he moved well and did no harm. John Macurdy was an adequate Arkel, though the voice was a little muddy. As always happens in a great performance, the whole was larger than its parts, and the first credit for that must go to James Levine, back home at last and showing why he wanted to be artistic director. That the orchestra played beautifully for him goes without saying, and there were some moments-for example, the beats of the horn against the violins at the end of Mélisande's Act 3 aria-that will stay with me for a long time.

Desmond Heeley's gauzy production of diaphanous veils and massive furniture dates back to Rudolf Bing's last season 16 years ago, but it is still fresh and entirely appropriate. Fabrizio Melano, with the luxury of directing such intelligent artists, did not let them down. The presentation was full of the touches of a quintessentially refined theatrical temperament. The lights were darkened just before each act to ensure that Levine arrived on his podium without possibility of applause, and the curtain call at the conclusion had the cast plus Levine lined up in the centre of the stage, bathed in white light, just standing there while the most enthusiastic house demanded eight or nine calls, and seemed to know it was a special occasion.

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