Pelleas et Melisande at Symphony Hall by Christopher Morley
Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande is an opera designed to leave us puzzling, as is Maeterlinck's symbolist play which is its source. But a mere concert-performance, however fine as this was from the CBSO, just leaves its enigmas on the printed page, when there is no interactive characterisation between the protagonists.
Staged productions I have seen reveal the fey Melisande, the focus of what little action goes on, to be a manipulative little minx, her husband Golaud to be a tormented bully, his half-brother Pelleas to be a total wet in his aesthetic crush upon Melisande (do they or don't they? almost certainly the latter). Here these roles were effectively sung by Katja Stuber, Roland Wood (his music underlying his bullying, his torment hamstrung by the absence of action), and Jacques Imbrailo.
It was left to the peripatetic parts to convey characterisation already latent in the score: Matthew Best as a wonderfully compassionate, sorrowing King Arkel, Felicity Palmer bringing genuine life to Genevieve, mother of the rival half-siblings, Renaud Delaigue an authoritative Doctor (and maintaining the tradition that he should be portrayed as Debussy at some or other point in his life).
And perhaps the soloist who reached out most to the audience was young Freddie Jamison as the pawn-child Yniold, bewildered at what the grownups are demanding of him, and totally assured in his vocal delivery; he is already a much sought-after soloist throughout Europe.
But actually the major character in this opera is the orchestra itself. It does not accompany, it weaves a tapestry of pre-Raphaelite half-lights, shot through with occasional flashes of distant sunshine, it maintains an atmosphere of gloom, and brings to life all Debussy's evocative water-imagery, whether forest pools or surging seas (La Mer was soon to follow).
Under Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla's baton, both detailed and sweeping, the CBSO delivered the score with magnificence and sensitivity. This should have been recorded, not only by the BBC, but also for commercial release. There aren't that many worthwhile CDs of this rewarding opera available; perhaps there were contractual problems.