Not quite the last word on Pelléas et Mélisande but this live recording of the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with a stellar cast of soloists comes very close. Having enjoyed the concert in the Barbican Hall I have been eagerly anticipating this release and it certainly does not disappoint. *****
The five act opera Pelléas et Mélisande by the French composer Claude Achille Debussy (1862-1918) was premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 30 April 1902. The plot concerns a love triangle between Prince Golaud, who finds Mélisande, a mysterious young woman, lost in a forest and then marries her. Mélisande becomes increasingly attached to Golaud’s younger half-brother Pelléas, arousing her husband’s jealousy. Eventually Pelléas decides to meet Mélisande one last time and the two finally confess their love for one another. Golaud, who has been listening in, springs forth and kills Pelléas. Mélisande dies shortly after, having given birth to a daughter, with her husband still pleading with her to tell him ‘the truth’.
Simon Rattle seems to excel in French music and this fine recording, on the LSO Live label, is no exception. He gives us a clearly thought out and immaculately performed interpretation of the work. The conductor coaxes the London Symphony Orchestra’s strings to play with a silken subtlety and gets a suitable blaze of colours from the wind and brass sections.
Magdalena Kožená is in fine voice as Mélisande and sings the role beautifully and it would probably be churlish to suggest that she comes across as a little too mature for the role. Her Pelléas is the German baritone, Christian Gerhaher and Gerald Finley stands out as a heart-rending Golaud. Listen and enjoy!