Denise Duval / Vittorio Gui

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

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Vittorio Gui does not bring a particularly Gallic sensibility to this performance of Pelléas et Mélisande recorded at the 1963 Glyndebourne Festival, but he creates a dramatically charged reading that doesn't sacrifice the transparent delicacy of the music. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays with sensitivity and passion, and with gorgeously shaded tone. The cast also brings a sense of dramatic urgency to opera, a quality that does not uncommonly elude singers in this work, who can treat the characters with a pastel reserve that reflects the stereotyped reputation of the music. Michel Roux as Golaud gives a particularly strongly etched performance; the character's development and volatility come across with vivid power. The scene with Pelléas in the grotto is fraught with menace, and his abuse of Mélisande has the manic energy of one completely out of control. Roux's voice is not consistently beautiful. In the first two acts, he tends to sound nasal and covered, but as Golaud's rage overwhelms him, Roux's voice becomes more focused and powerful. Tenor Hans Wilbrink's voice is large and warm, with the baritonal qualities that are ideal for his role. His Pelléas is initially reserved, but he becomes galvanized by meeting Mélisande, and the character is revealed as virile and hot-blooded. Denise Duval generally makes a fine Mélisande, but she doesn't make a strong dramatic impression in the enigmatic role until the final act. She has difficulties with pitch in the unaccompanied sections, and in the solo that opens the third act, requires discreet instrumental doubling to stay in tune. Guus Hoekman is an exceptionally human and profound Arkel, amplifying his significance in the drama, and his dark voice is rich and deep. Anna Reynolds' voice is too young sounding for Geneviève, and in her scene with Mélisande, they sound like sisters. The sound quality is unusually clean for a live recording of the period, the work of John Barnes, who made archival tapes of thousands of performances at Glyndebourne. There is a little stage noise, and the tape recorder briefly acts up at one point, but the voices and orchestra are captured with clarity and surprising depth. The recording should be of strong interest to anyone who loves the opera.

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