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Pelléas et Mélisande

Opernhaus Zürich, Switzerland

Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande tells the story of the mysterious Mélisande , found crying in the forest by Pelléas’ half brother, Golaud. Golaud immediately falls in love with the girl and takes her home to his grandfather’s palace. Mélisande  seems totally traumatized, not allowing anyone close to her, unable to talk about her history. Until she meets Pelléas. He is the only one she can respond to. And as it must be, she falls in love with Pelléas, who reciprocates her love. When Mélisande  loses the ring Golaud gives her, the normally sensible Golaud turns into a psychopath.

Mélisande  becomes an object of desire in the palace of Arkel (Golaud’s grandfather). Goloud’s jealousy transforms into hate until he finally kills his half-brother Pelléas. Mélisande , now tormented by Golaud, is expecting a child. After giving birth to a girl, she can only find salvation in death.

Director Dmitri Tcherniakov’s idea for this opera was just brilliant. There was no forest and no old castle. Tcherniakov sets the action in a modern villa. Golaud is no prince but is instead a psychotherapist here, who takes his female patient (Mélisande ) home for treatment. She resembles a punk, dressed in black with black hair. But during the opera you recognize that Mélisande  is just a naïve, traumatized girl that has been abused by everybody. The simplicity of the stage design is exactly what makes it so that you focus on the people and their psyches. You get insight into the life of a well-respected family, one that is not as well and harmonious as it seems from outside. Family members are beaten (Golaud’s son Yniold), raped (Mélisande ) and even killed (Pelleas). Tcherniakov manages to make the story really believable, so much so that it occupied the mind of a young man like me for hours afterwards. Bravo for this fantastic version of Pelléas et Mélisande .

Also with respect to musical vision, this evening was excellent. The conductor Alain Altinoglu conducted Debussy’s music in a way that was so full of passion you could feel every single emotion of the protagonist from the wonderful sound of the orchestra. He conducted this demanding opera with extreme care and interpreted it down to the last note with magnificent passion.

With her warm sounding soprano, Corinne Winters gives us a really impressive Mélisande  and acts fantastically. She sings the highest notes with extraordinary ease. Her warm timbre fills the whole opera. Jacques Imbrailo sings the part of Pelléas with a very pure and soft tenor. Kyle Ketelsen plays the role of Golaud with great malice. His dark baritone is full of power, even in the highest notes.

Brindley Sherratt’s bass is perfect for the role of the old King Arkel . Yvonne Naef gives an impressive Geneviève (Golauds Mother), and Damien Göritz’s Yniold is ravishing.

It was an excellent evening of opera, but unfortunately the audience gave very muted applause. There were even some inappropriate boos for Tcherniakov.


Read a Kyle Ketelsen interview to Playstosee here.

  • Opera
  • By Claude Debussy
  • Libretto by Maurice Maeterlinck
  • Opernhaus Zürich, Switzerland
  • Until 29 May 2016
  • Review by Fabio Andrea Rickenmann
  • 8 May 2016

About The Author

Young Opera Critic

I was born in Zürich, Switzerland. My passion for the opera began at an early age during a performance of Mozarts "Die Zauberflöte“. I’m trying to bring opera closer to people who might not have had many encounters with this art form before, by writing about performances and pieces that fascinate me. For nearly 10 years I was a member of the Zürich Opera Children’s Choir. Since 2019 I'm enjoying the opera world as an extra at the Zurich Opera. Apart from opera and theatre, I enjoy literature, languages and nature. In 2021 I started studying musicology and law at the University of Zürich but still enjoy watching and writing about many opera performances. It’s never too late nor too early for anyone to start exploring this fascinating art form!

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