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Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande Live, Box set


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Product details

  • Orchestra: Orchestre National De France
  • Conductor: Bernard Haitink
  • Audio CD (19 Dec. 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Live, Box set
  • Label: Naive
  • ASIN: B00005ULRQ
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 31,819 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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BBC Review

By a very peculiar irony, the public which demands "something new" is the very same as that which is bewildered and mocking each time someone tries to get them out of their comfortable habits and routines...It may seem incomprehensible, but one must never forget that a work of art, an attempt at beauty, almost always appears as a personal offence to many people.'

Not the words of a contemporary composer yesterday, but Claude Debussy a century ago, writing a note for the first performance of his opera "Pelléas et Mélisande" in April 1902. But Debussy himself was trying to escape something that haunted him, and as he saw it, the whole of French opera: the influence of Wagner.

Debussy had been a passionate Wagnerite, visiting Bayreuth repeatedly in what he himself called a 'pilgrimage'; yet he recognised that the Wagnerian formulas worked only for Wagner, that what was needed was an 'after Wagner', an escape from "this Neo-Wagnerian school where French genius has sunk to counterfeit 'Wotans' in half boots and 'Tristans' in velvet jackets".

Yet he was still under the spell of Wagner's "Parsifal", where the music seemed to him to be on a much more human scale, with a transparency of orchestration that he really admired: "an orchestral colour which is illuminated from behind".

One of the reasons Bernard Haitink's "Pelléas" is such a success is exactly that late-Wagnerian quality he coaxes from the French National Orchestra, who play quite beautifully for him...and despite the fact that this was made from live performances for Radio France, there's a delicious feeling of air around the recording. It all feels effortlessly natural, which is exactly what Debussy was trying to achieve with his writing, with everything flowing from the accents, rhythms and flexibility of the French language.

If it concerns you that only one of the key roles is sung by a native French speaker, you needn't worry: Anne Sofie von Otter and Wolfgang Holzmair are impressively fluent. In fact Holzmair's Pelléas is perfect, full of youthful ardour, falling for the beautiful Mélisande despite the intimidating presence of his older brother, her husband Golaud.

Here Pelléas's naïve romanticism is touching, and believable...but I had a slight reservation about Otter's Mélisande, despite the beauty of the singing. Is she just a touch too knowing for the mysterious girl, found weeping beside a forest fountain by Golaud? The flirtatious games she plays with Pelléas, the tossing of her wedding ring, the letting down of her golden tresses from the window - there's an innocence missing from Otter's portrayal...or maybe we're meant to feel that she's been here before.

Some listeners are going to find Laurent Naouri's Golaud too light, but for me he's one of the best things about the recording: a Golaud who reacts in an understandably human way to Mélisande's missing ring, or to catching the youngsters in a compromising situation. It's more believable that he doesn't erupt immediately; here we have a Golaud who's slow to anger, but when he does finally explode with catastrophic rage it's all the more frightening for his former restraint.

But, for all the fine singing, it's the extraordinary score that haunts you after you've heard this recording; the transparency, the limpid beauty of the watery imagery, the velvet shade and stifling darkness, and the glorious transition from the oppressive gloom of the dungeons to the outside world. The balance between light and darkness, the tension between joy and melancholy, are brilliantly realised by Debussy, by Haitink, and by the orchestra. What a wonderful recording to be offered for "Pelléas et Mélisande"s 100th birthday.

Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3 --John Armstrong

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By pentatonic on 4 Feb. 2010
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Reviews about this most atmosheric and intangible of operas seem to be quite partisan, with very opposing stances being taken. Having read a couple of raves over this one, I took the plunge, Despite having read a couple that complained of audience noise. It is a beautiful, idiomatic performance with the right kind of frisson coming from the fact that there was a (concert) audience. However, whilst you will hear a (very) few coughs, the audience is amazing quiet and seemed to be rapt. Little point in singling out the soloists, they are all superb, but the Golaud (Naouri) is a revelation - none of the usual barking misery, but a very moving, credible and heart-breaking portrayal. Anne-Sophie von Otter is more mature sounding than most as Melisande, but for me this added a more believable edge to the character - she has to have the potential to be consorting with both Pelleas and Golaud (as vague as the libretto is on these points...). Haitink and his orchestra support wonderfully and never intrude - just what Debussy wanted. This is one beautiful performance of a magical piece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kenny. on 31 May 2013
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful-wonderful-wonderful musical experience.
Haitink is at his supreme delicate best.The very best Anne Sophie Von Otter,Wolfgang Holzmair.
Debussy broke all the rules of traditional opera settings and format when he wrote this.
It took me some time to familiarise myslf with the structure of Palléas and Méllisande3-4 listens but then..................wow!
A must for adventurous opera lovers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A beautiful performance deserving of a better recording 22 Jan. 2003
By MartinP - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
One of the great things of the `classical' repertoire is that it's so extensive that there will be new masterpieces to discover even when your shelves are already sagging under their CD-load (mine are). Thus it could happen that the acquisition of this disc, on the strength of a rapturous Gramophone review, was my first introduction to what is, according to many, Debussy's greatest work. It is indeed an extremely beautiful and moving piece. It is also a very un-operatic opera. Much like in Bartok's Bluebeard, outward action is minimal: all significant events occur in the psyche of the characters. Much unlike Bartok though, almost the entire piece is very quiet and very slow; also, Pelléas is more than twice as long as Bluebeard (the opera that is, not the character...). Concentration and devotion are therefore required, a willingness to succumb to Debussy's mysterious Allemonde, a world built of short motives kept suspended by slow-changing harmonies. But what harmonies! Debussy conjures up sounds that must be among the most ethereally beautiful ever contrived for the symphony orchestra (which he uses like a chamber ensemble, often reducing the music to no more than two or three lines).
Haitink has impressive credentials as a Debussian (his `70s La Mer is something of a classic), and this recording too sounds deeply committed and very well thought out. The singers are excellent, von Otter expertly shading every nuance of Mélisandes moods, and touchingly vulnerable in the death-scene. Holzmair is an equally alluring Pelléas, and Couderc sounds convincingly boyish as the young Yniold, her at times slightly dubious intonation adding to that effect rather than spoiling it (boy soprano's never sing in tune, do they?). Both the grandfather and Mélisandes husband are forceful presences, Naouri portraying a suitably brutal Gonauld without tipping over into the sinister; he is very convincing in his frantic need to hear the truth. The only weakness in the cast is Geneviève, who sounds very wobbly indeed, though you might argue that as an old woman she is entitled to (maybe the unsteadiness was intentional?), and anyway, the part is very small. The orchestral playing is equally first rate, occasional slips in ensemble no doubt attributable to the fact that this recording was made live.
Well, there is the catch. Though for a recording made live in the opera house there are surprisingly few stage noises (due no doubt to the low level of action in the score), there is the inevitable plethora of audience and other background noises. Coughs, sneezes, rustling paper, the conductor humming, creaking chairs, and a number of inexplicable additional noises can be heard throughout the recording, at one point topped off by a middle sized wooden object hitting the floor with a startling dry crack very near the listener. This does not help at all when you try to loose yourself in Debussy's shady, half mythical world - you are constantly reminded of Paris's ailing bourgeoisie on a high profile cultural outing at the Champs-Élysées theatre, half of them quite likely bored stiff. Worse, at some points the effect of Debussy's subtle orchestration is completely undone by surrounding noise, most notably so at the start of act III scene 2. Coughers, as most of us know from dire experience, are highly musical; sometimes I suspect them of studying the score beforehand and marking the passages where a cough will be most effective, that is: ruinous. Admittedly, on first hearing this does add an element of suspense: will the next ppp passage come through undisrupted? At the end of act V make sure you have your remote control handy, because as usual the applause bursts in without even allowing the final chord a moment of silence to dissolve in (thus insulting the musicians by demonstrating that the implications of the music have not been understood at all, and making me suspect, as I have suspected more often, that what is vented here is not appreciation, but relief that it is over).
But seriously, a reading as beautiful as this would have deserved a better recording. The sound itself is not all it could be either: it lacks transparency (poor harpists!), inner voices are unclear, the sound is somewhat dull at times, and does not expand as much as you would wish in the few forte moments. On balance I would say that the quality of the interpretation still makes it all worthwhile, though I am unfamiliar with other recordings and therefore unable to judge whether there are equally good ones more sonically favoured.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
There is NO background noise on this recording! 21 Feb. 2010
By Tony Consiglio - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Please ignore the complaints of the reviewers who wrote in 2002 and 2003. THERE IS NO BACKGROUND NOISE ON THIS RECORDING!! Was the recording re-engineered to correct background noise? I don't know - I couldn't find any indications that that might be true on the set I just purchased from an independent seller on amazon. Are the previous reviewers prissy and disconnected from reality? I can't answer that - I'll just note that one of them has a bizarre objection to audience applause at the end of the opera. Am I desensitized to background noise because I am an avid listener of live opera? I don't think so - I recognized the kind of complaints the other reviewers had from many other recordings I listen to frequently, but I found none of those noises present on this recording.

I chose this set based on the positive comments by these reviewers and recognizing that the principal singers, and especially von Otter, are perfectly suited to this music. AND THEY ARE!! This is a SUPERLATIVE recording, perfectly engineered, that I cannot recommend highly enough.
16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
The Divine Madame O 8 Jun. 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
How on earth one could even begin to compare Kozena with the inexpressible brilliance of Anne Sophie von Otter astonishes me. I grant that Maggie was initially quite surprising in her album of Bach for Archiv, but have since realised that this was largely due to the quality of the sound engineering. All that I have heard of her since this debut album has been incredibly disappointing. Certainly she has a lovely voice, but she does not have the intellect or heart to recreate a masterpiece.
Von Otter, to me, is the most artistic singer of her time... though suited mainly to the art song repertory. Another notable mention is Ewa Podles who is astonishing. Von Otter has the voice, heart and intellect to create magic in almost everything she sings.
Selected by the BBC As "The" Performance to have 21 April 2013
By Daniel K Galvin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This work was the subject of the BBC's Building a Library. After a review of other versions both in and out of print, this was selected. See the BBC Building a Library for more details. Reviewed 4/20/13. Criteria was first performance and interpretation and second sound quality.
11 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Beutiful music. Mystical, grim and a sensual opera 14 May 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is a stunning performance. From the beginning you could easy hear that this is going to be something extraordinary conducted and played and so it is.
Haitink lets this music really flow, give it a mysterious tone both sensual and a bit grim and -as Debussy like it to be- the singing is over music on this disc or at least equal in some parts.
About the singing... IT is GREAT, beutiful singing on this disc. von Otter is marvelous as Mélisande. Maybe a bit distanced -*as usual*? but she really shows here why she is one of the best solid operasinger in the entire world (the only one I MIGHT like to have as Mélisande instead of von Otter is Magdalena Kozena -because of *her long hair* :-) (of course is the serious reason that she is my absolutly favourite female singer and this opera should suit her perfect).
Anyway is von Otter VERY GOOD at this version.
Holzmair is equal very good as Pelleás and Naouri does a solid Golaud.
I can not compare this version to other recordings but Boulez probably let you here every note as usual and so more than ever when he conducts Debussy :-). Boulez IS in my opinion one of the greatest conductors of our time, BUT he is generally not an opera conductor even if he succeeded with Bartoks "Bluebeard Castle" and Schoenbergs "Moses and Aaron".
Abbado seldom record/conduct a bad opera but he is best with the russians (Mussorgsky), the austrians (Alban Berg, Mozart) and -of course- the italians like Verdi (Abbado is a true Verdian, one of the greatest Verdi opera conductors ever in my opinion) and Rossini.
Anyway... Hatink gives THIS performance, THIS opera a special magic, a music flow I dont believe these guys mentioned above could deliver about this Debussy opera Pelleas & Melisande (and Haitink is overall a very good opera conductor).
Sound on this disc is absolutly stunning and this is something that helps get the magic to you with a subtile work as this is ( a kind of "Parsifal and Tristan & Isolde -light" but of course it is impressionist "painted" and VERY french) (by the way... Debussy wanted to get rid of Wagners intentions in this work but he has his own way creating some kind of "Leitmotif" on this work)).
BUT... it IS a LIVE set and, sensitive as I am :-), a lot of coughing ruin some parts and that is something you hear to much of using HEADPHONES. It is not SO terrible, straight out from my loudspeakers. Record label Naive producers/sound-engineers could have take away more of it because coughing sometimes ruins the magic on this sublime Debussy opera disc and it is not fun listen to coughs on ANY live opera record (and as a producer nowdays you could take away most of it by modern techno).
OK... that was the ONLY bad part of this disc and its the ONLY bad here - some coughing.
About singing, conducting, sound etc. it is more than a five star rate and this disc is probably a serious choise, in one way or another, as a operawinner disc for this year.
If you like opera buy it... if you like Debussy it is a MUST have disc.
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