Episode 142. The Thrill of Pelléas

Episode 142. The Thrill of Pelléas

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Mary Garden

In (relative) relief over the recent French election result, I kick off my miniseries devoted to French singers and French music. Today’s episode will be the first of two devoted to my favorite opera, Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, which has enchanted, fascinated, and, yes, thrilled me since I was ten years old. If, like me, you adore this opera, then this episode is obviously for you. If you are among the many naysayers out there who find Pelléas to be boring, this episode is even more for you, because it puts the lie to the old saw that this masterpiece is static and motionless. Going back to near the dawn of recorded sound, I offer extant examples of the creators of the principal roles, Mary Garden, Hector Dufranne, Jean Périer, Jeanne Gerville-Réache, and Félix Vieuille. I also feature performances by other figures associated with the opera in its first decades of performance: Maggie Teyte, Charles Panzéra, Marthe Nespoulous, Germaine Cernay, Claire Croiza, Vanni-Marcoux, Jacques Jansen, Paul Cabanel, and Armand Narçon, most of whom are featured on early recordings of the opera from the 1920s, and from its first complete recording led by Roger Désormière in war-torn Paris in 1941. From the next generation of great Debussy interpreters, I also present Suzanne Danco, Camille Maurane, Françoise Ogéas, Gérard Souzay, and Jean-Paul Jeannotte in various live performances led by the legendary conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, and from more recent decades, performances by José van Dam, Michèle Command and the late Maria Ewing and Gabriel Bacquier led by Claudio Abbado and Serge Baudo. These artists all are keenly connected to both the words and drama, and wring out the passion, playfulness, and despair to be found in this work, which represents to me the perfect fusion of words, music and drama. Prepare to have your preconceptions challenged as I step into the world of Pelléas, that dramatic fusion of sunlight and shadow, which will continue next week with recorded performances by even more great singers and conductors.

As promised, here is the libretto in French: https://www.opera-arias.com/debussy/pelléas-et-melisande/libretto/

And in English translation: https://www.opera-arias.com/debussy/pelléas-et-melisande/libretto/english/

RECORDINGS HEARD IN THIS EPISODE

Unless otherwise noted, all selections are from Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy and Maurice Maeterlinck.

Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, orchestrated Pierre Dupont. La Marseillaise. Georges Thill, Pierre Dupont, La Musique de la Garde Républicaine et Choeur [1931]

Act III, Scene 1:

Mes longs cheveux descendent. Mary Garden, Claude Debussy [1904]

Act IV, Scene 4:

Sais-tu pourquoi je t’ai demandé de venir ce soir? Maggie Teyte, John Ranck. [live Town Hall 15.I.48]

Jules Massenet, Henri Caïn, Arthur Bernède after Alphonse Daudet: Pendant un an je suis ta femme (Sapho). Georgette Leblanc, Jules Massenet [1903]

André Messager, Georges Duval, Albert Vanloo: Adieu, je pars (Véronique). Jean Périer with piano [1905]

Act III, Scene 3:

Ah! Je respire enfin!. Charles Panzéra, Orchestra conducted by Piero Coppola [1927]

Reynaldo Hahn, Paul Verlaine: D’une prison. Jeanne Gerville-Réache with Orchestra [1911]

Ange Flégier, Alfred de Vigny: Le Cor. Félix Vieuille with Orchestra [1907]

Act IV, Scene 2:

Ne mettez vous ainsi la main à la gorge. Vanni-Marcoux, Orchestra conducted by Piero Coppola [1924]

Act I, Scene 1:

Je ne pourrai plus sortir de cette forêt. Hector Dufranne, Orchestra conducted by Georges Truc [1928]

Pourquoi pleures-tu? Maria Ewing, José van Dam, Claudio Abbado, Wiener Philharmoniker [1992]

Act I, Scene 2:

Voici ce qu’il écrit à son frère Pelléas. Germaine Cernay, Orchestra conducted by Roger Désormière [1941]

Roger Désormière

Qu’en dites vous? Claire Croiza, Armand Narçon, Orchestra conducted by Georges Truc [1928]

Qu’allons nous faire? Germaine Cernay, Jacques Jansen, Paul Cabanel, Orchestra conducted by Roger Désormière [1941]

Act II, Scene 1.

Vous ne savez pas où je vous ai menée? Suzanne Danco, Camille Maurane, Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, Philharmonia Orchestra [BBC 01.VI.51]

Act II, Scene 2.

Ah! Ah! Tout va bien. Gabriel Bacquier, Michèle Command, Serge Baudo, Orchestre de Lyon [1978]

Que veux-tu que j’y fasse? Gérard Souzay, Françoise Ogéas, Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, Orchestre National de la RTF [24.XI.1955]

Act II, Scene 3.

Oui, c’est ici, nous y sommes. Jean-Paul Jeannotte, Françoise Ogéas, Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, Orchestre National de la RTF [24.XI.1955]

Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht

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