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Magical Pelléas et Mélisande at Teatr Wielki in Warsaw
A small stage, so no chance for the director’s extravaganzas and stunning sets. A piano version, so no chance for the audience to enjoy the orchestra playing in one of the most „orchestral” operas. Two of the soloists have relatively little stage experience, one of the protagonists makes his stage debut in an extremely challenging part, so the audience cannot really hope for wonderful interpretations. Can such a performance be a breathtaking experience that leaves the audience close to tears? Well, it can.
In the case of the Warsaw production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande most of the credit for such an achievement goes to the director, Tomasz Konina. Using simple means (few props and a very basic set), Konina created a stifling, depressing world of the Allemande kingdom, a world of a lost Mélisande and a helpless though seemingly strong Golaud. Konina made a skilful use of video projections – several projected images and scenes fitted in extremely well with Debussy’s tale, never for a moment becoming just pretty, meaningless pictures. Another praiseworthy element – Konina’s mastery of symbols. In the famous scene with hair, the usual long wig was replaced by a thread held by Pelléas and Mélisande standing at either ends of the stage. The thread was delicate and fragile, just like Mélisande, just like that moment of inexpressible happiness which bewilders the two lovers, a moment that suddenly breaks off like the thread burnt with a cigarette lighter by Golaud.
This exceptional production also had an exceptional cast. In the so-called supporting roles, Mieczysław Milun (Arkel) and Elżbieta Pańko (Genevieve) were a real delight (to the eyes as well as to the ears), as was the treble, Adam Urbaniak, an excellent choice for the role of Yniold. As for the performances of the three main soloists – the word that comes to my mind is „revelation”.
This is certainly a word that best describes the performance of Mariusz Godlewski, especially if we take into account the fact the extremely difficult role of Pelléas was his stage debut. Godlewski’s Pelléas was innocent and carefree; the depressing atmosphere of Allemonde barely touched him. The young baritone impressed with a good stage presence and, most importantly, with a beautiful voice – warm, ringing, with an upper register many a tenor could envy. True, occasionally some sounds were not exactly spot on, but they were just minor imperfections that can easily be corrected in the future. There is no doubt that Mariusz Godlewski is a name to watch.
Anna Karasińska thrilled as Mélisande. The young singer’s clear, silvery voice fitted the role perfectly, while her acting skills enabled her to create a fascinating portrayal of Mélisande, an otherworldly, delicate creature that could easily break in Golaud’s clumsy hands.
In that role, Andrzej Witlewski was probably the greatest revelation of the evening. Still a very young singer, Witlewski displayed an astonishing artistic maturity. He used his dark baritone to perfection, employing a variety of colours to present very movingly the emotional turmoil of his character. His Golaud was not a repugnant brute but a confused man who was unable to comprehend his otherworldly wife and who was terrified by that incomprehension. This was a helpless and awkward Golaud, who could not come to terms with the situation. He would vent his frustration on an equally helpless Mélisande, only to comfort her desperately and somewhat clumsily a moment later. Without resorting to grand histrionic gestures, Witlewski managed to express Golaud’s suffering most poignantly. At one point I found it very hard to hold back the tears.
A few words of comment on the piano accompaniment. Szabolc Esztényi proved to be a solid rather than inspired accompanist, though one has to admit that even a „merely” decent performance of this huge and difficult score deserves at least some praise. Many pundits among the critics lamented the fact that the piano version was chosen, and devoted three-quarters of their reviews to diatribes against the stinginess of the house management, which had opted for the piano version to save some cash. Well, first of all, I do not think that this is a question of a better version (only a version that appeals more to some people and less to others). Secondly, if this is the artistic result of the management’s stinginess, then I predict a bright future for this house.