|Sidney Outlaw, Aude Cardona, and Christopher Dylan Herbert (photo by Tony Gale)|
We traveled over an hour to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn (Red Hook to be precise) to witness the launch of Floating Opera New York as they presented Debussy's only opera, Pelléas et Mélisande; the opera premiered in 1902 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris and has been revived from time to time, but never on a boat, to the best of our knowledge.
Floating Opera staged the work on a 101-year-old wooden barge, the last remaining one of its kind. The audience was seated on all four sides of the playing area which was demarcated by strings of colored lights. The set by Jian Jung comprised lots of coiled ropes and a dinghy which served as fountain, spring, and nuptial bed.
We heard the original piano score which debuted before the turn of the 20th c. chez Stéphane Mallarmé at a gathering of Symbolist artists, poets and musicians. It would later be orchestrated. George Hemcher beautifully played the diaphanous impressionistic score while Eric Kramer conducted.
The voices were uniformly excellent. As the mysterious heroine Mélisande we heard the French mezzo-soprano Aude Cardona who managed to sing the elusive unhappy woman with a fine rich tone. The compelling baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert shone as the prince Pélleas who is involved in this delicately rendered love triangle with his older half-brother Prince Golaud, so superbly sung by baritone Sidney Outlaw. The role demanded many vocal colors as he went from tenderness to jealous rage; Mr. Outlaw delivered.
As Genviève, mother to both men, Jazmin DeRice made a substantial impression in her one important scene. As the blind grandfather Arkel, Paul Goodwin-Groen used his booming base effectively and aroused our sympathy. Another base, Brett Vogel portrayed the Doctor and the young soprano Caroline Rose Loeb portrayed Golaud's young son Yniold. Note that most of the important roles involved low voices!
The story is a strange one. Debussy himself adapted the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, an attempt to depart from realism and naturalism. The story is kind of a fairy tale taking place in vaguely Medieval times. The widower Golaud finds Mélisande weeping at a well. Her crown has fallen into the water but she doesn't want it retrieved. He comforts her, takes her back to his castle and weds her.
She is not happy. Pelléas, the younger half-brother, shares a rather innocent friendship with her that blossoms into love, which is only confessed when he is leaving. Nothing is really spoken but the sensual nature of the two artists' physical movement tells us a great deal. In one thrilling scene in which Pelléas sings of embracing her very long hair, he enacts that by horizontally "climbing" the stretched out rope. They are playful like children. In another scene they actually climb opposing walls of the barge.
Golaud is suspicious and tries to get his young son to spy on the pair. He has no evidence but flies into a jealous rage when he sees them exchange a farewell kiss. He slays his brother. Mélisande will soon die.
The symbolism of water is everywhere--spring, fountain, cave, tears. How fitting to perform the work on the water!
There was only one aspect of the production that we found very UN-fitting. It was decided to present the work in English, a decision which we deplore. It is a very French work; Debussy matched the rhythm of the French language to his music. It was a poor fit to the English language which never flows like French.
Furthermore, the women's diction left much to be desired and, had we not been familiar with the story, we would have been pretty much in the dark as to what was happening. Even with our familiarity, many fine points of the story were missed. A better solution might have been to have sung the work in French with audience members being given a summary to read.
Direction by Isabel Milenski was exciting and the space put to excellent use. Christina Lorraine Bullard designed the costumes with Ms. Cardona's costume being designed by Jana Jarosz. Effective lighting design was by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew.
It was a memorable launch of a new opera ship. Future productions will be staged in other venues. Hence the title--Floating Opera New York.
(c) meche kroop