Opera Scotland

Pelleas and Melisande 2022Byre Opera

Read more about the opera Pelléas et Mélisande

For a university-based opera company to tackle a complex piece such as Pelléas is a hugely ambitious undertaking. Undaunted, Byre Opera took on the challenge for the company's return to the live stage in its first production since 2019.

Pelleas and Melisande was also the first opera to be staged at the new Laidlaw Music Centre in St Andrews. This visually impressive venue turns out to be a highly successful one, perhaps not huge in terms of capacity - this format accommodated some 120 in complete comfort and with excellent sightlines. The ceiling is unusually high and the acoustic wonderfully natural. The floor can also be raised or lowered in sections to make a highly flexible orchestra pit. At the final performance of the run (a Sunday matinee) the hall was full and the sound lovely and warm.

For this production a new chamber orchestration had been prepared by Matthew Rooke. There was a band of thirteen players, many doubling or tripling instruments, and the unusual sounds of a harmonium contributing to the mix. The quality of playing was excellent, hardly surprising with Lucy Russell, the first violin of the Fitzwilliam Quartet, in residence at St Andrews, leading the ensemble. Michael Downes had complete control over his forces, drawing out lots of choice playing. There were few occasions where the full aural splendour of the normal orchestra was missed - perhaps the shock of the murder of Pelléas being one such, lacking the ideal sonic impact.

For anyone familiar with this opera the real surprise was to hear it sung in English. This work is one of those operas generally considered to be near-impossible to perform effectively in any language except French. Janice Galloway had provided a new text which seemed to sound well on the whole. Perhaps as a result the opera will be performed more widely in future. The staging was directed in very simple style by Kally Lloyd-Jones, while Janis Hart provided minimal but effective props - a scattering of trees, a couple of elevated window frames. Much was achieved with lighting, with stygian gloom being relieved by spotlights. In working through the relationships, the singers prowled round the fringes of the orchestra, underlining the claustrophobia in the drama.

In this performance, the greatest achievement came with the overall standard of singing and acting in such a small scale setting. The only principal in any way familiar was Rachel Munro, the Melisande. Perhaps she lacked the air of mystery essential for this character, but she has a beautifully schooled voice. By contrast the Pelleas was a newcomer to serious opera, Sebastian Roberts is appropriately youthful in appearance, tall and slim, an effective actor, and the possessor of a beautifully-schooled light tenor. In this intimate venue his voice projected beautifully.

Perhaps best of all was the Golaud, James Berry. Berry is already launched on a developing professional career (including the forthcoming Edinburgh International Festival) and that experience shows. His tortured characterisation was superbly done. The other roles are all shorter, but were also handled with confidence, and overall drew attention and engagement in what grew to become a hugely effective company performance.

Many of the audience were completely unfamiliar with the opera. The hugely enthusiastic reception, thoroughly deserved, indicate that this successful new orchestration should travel with equal effect elsewhere.

Performance Cast

Golaud

James Berry

Mélisande

Rachel Munro

Geneviève mother of Golaud and Pelléas

Catriona Kadirkamanathan

Arkel King of Allemonde, grandfather of Golaud and Pelléas

Dillon Whitehead

Pelléas Golaud’s half-brother

Sebastian Roberts

Yniold son of Golaud

Rebecca Black (Jun 15, 17)

Natalie Klaes (Jun 19 m)

Shepherd

Brannon Liston-Smith

Doctor

Brannon Liston-Smith

Performance DatesPelleas and Melisande 2022

Map List

Laidlaw Music Centre | St Andrews

15 Jun, 19.00 17 Jun, 19.00 19 Jun, 14.30

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