Sunday, June 3, 2007

I like to rebut and I cannot lie.

In lieu of sucking it up and writing my own review of Pelléas et Mélisande, for the moment, I’m just going to pick apart what "real" critics have written about it and say why they’re wrong, as well as totally ignorant. I saw this production three times (out of a six-performance run), while some of these chuckleheads don’t seem to have seen it even once, therefore my opinions are more right than theirs.

From Keith McDonnell's review for

"Angelika Kirchschlager sang sensuously as Melisande but Simon Keenlyside sounded out of sorts as Pelleas – but then can you blame him?"

At least Mr. McDonnell got it right when he said that the audience was discerning for booing the production team while cheering the performers. As far as the above comments, I'm not sure what he was listening to. Maybe he's just unfamiliar with Pelléas. Pelléas's lines can seem somewhat odd; they swoop up and down, and are like French tongue-twisters. In the three performances that I attended, Simon Keenlyside was never anything less than perfect and perfectly committed... well, except to the stupid poses that director Stanislas Nordey made him strike. Ms. Kirchschlager, on the other hand, colored her voice very little; her Mélisande was a true blank slate... in the most flat and dull sense of the phrase.

Rupert Christiansen sat at his keyboard and vomited this all over it for The Telegraph:

Both (the singers in the title roles) are too mature to be playing these children: Keenlyside's attempt at naivety is embarrassing; Kirchschlager is knowing and manipulative. They sing with tremendous accomplishment and polish, but at times attack the music with excessive bravado.

Mélisande's crooned "Mes longs cheveux" is a show-stopping aria, while Keenlyside goes way over the top in the Act IV duet and makes it sound like Mascagni. There's no intimacy, no sense of half-heard whispers or unfinished sentences.

As Golaud, Gerald Finley sings with more restraint, but his psychological torture never emerges as more than vague grumpiness.

What a load of catty bullshit this is. Opera singers really can't win when it comes to age. Either they're too young and can't bring the appropriate depth to a role, or they look too old to play the teenagers and young lovers who make up the majority of operatic lead roles. In this case, though, Christiansen's bitchiness is misplaced, particularly in regard to Mr. Keenlyside. From my seat in the stalls (and without ogling through binoculars) Keenlyside (who's 47) could've easily passed for a man in his 30s, and from the balcony he seemed even younger. He’s incredibly graceful, youthful, and fleet-footed in his movements; only when you focus your binoculars on him do you see the signs of age. On top of that, his voice has a youthful, heroic sweetness that belies his age. I'm not sure what Christiansen is referring to when he talks about "Keenlyside's attempt at naivety" – all I saw was a sweet, inexperienced young man... nothing embarrassing about it at all, except for the ridiculous costume.

On to his next claim, i.e. that Keenlyside went over the top and turned Act IV into Mascagni. First of all, I don't see that Keenlyside had any other choice but to push himself, since Simon Rattle was making the orchestra play at full volume and with little subtlety. The lack of intimacy is, in my opinion, more a function of the stupid direction, which often kept the characters from touching or even looking at one another. But vocally, the subtlety was there. With Keenlyside, there's no other option. While his declaration of love wasn't the soft, tortured whisper it was in the Boston concert performance, it certainly wasn't a verismo-style bellow.

As for Christiansen's last neck-fart, I can only give him the two-finger salute and make a rude noise. If tossing a woman around by her hair and then pressing her face into the floor is "vague grumpiness", I'd hate to be Christiansen’s partner (well, I'd hate that anyway, dude seems like a prick). Seriously, Finley's "Absalom! Absalom!" scene was one of the most chilling things I've ever seen in opera.

I'm just picking on Edward Seckerson from the Independent because he's ignorant:

Up until that moment, however, the stage narrative was entirely driven by Clolus opening up a series of huge "Chinese boxes" and illuminating something emblematic to the scene in question: a wall of Pelléas's letters to Golaud in one; Mélisande's white flowers in another; the lovers' names spelled out in Braille to underline Arkel's failing sight; bloodstained pillows pertaining to Golaud's hunting accident; and, inevitably, Mélisande in the tower, like a butterfly in a display case, countless replicas of her red dress arrayed on either side.

The lovers' names were not spelled out in the Braille — they were spelled out in a bunch of tiny round lights, like on a marquee. Believe or not, Mr. Seckerson, but Braille letters aren't actually in the shape of regular alphabet letters. Please don't give Mr. Clolus more credit than he deserves.

Richard Fairman from the Financial Times needs to swab out his ears:

As his younger brother Pelléas, Simon Keenlyside is less verbally clear but gets beneath the skin of the character to find a strange layer of immaturity and preciousness. (I wondered if he and Finley might have been cast round the other way, with the youthful-sounding Finley as Pelléas and Keenlyside bringing his dramatic insight to the murky depths of Golaud.)

Hopefully he's referring to the murky depths of the character's psyche and not to the murky depths of the voice, because if Fairman thinks that Keenlyside's lower tones are the stronger part of his voice, I can only assume that he's trapped in some backwards Bizarro world where up is down, east is west, Simon Rattle wins "Best Hair" awards, and Hugh Laurie's eyes are orange and hideous. Also, the idea of Finley as Pelléas is slightly absurd, considering that Finley is a bass-baritone (albeit an immensely talented one) and Pelléas is a role that verges on the tenor range in parts.

Michael Roddy, writing for The Scotsman, doesn't seem to be at all acquainted with the story, the libretto, the performance itself, or his ass from his elbow:

"I'd be disappointed if I was seen as the mean guy," said Canadian-born baritone Gerald Finley, who sings Golaud. But doesn't he kill his half brother, the poetic, childlike Pelleas (British baritone Simon Keenlyside) who has tried to run away from his infatuation with Melisande but yes, probably has had carnal knowledge of her?

The hell? The libretto and even the staging (for a change!) make it absolutely clear that Pelléas and Mélisande’s first kiss takes place in Act IV, right before Golaud kills Pelléas. Yes, I suppose Mélisande could have a working girl’s frame of mind and fuck before kissing, but yeah, no. There’s been no knocking of very sensual boots there.

Also from Michael Roddy:
But then again, with the current production, there may be moments you want to avert your eyes. Except when that lady with the red dress is on.

Actually, I was hoping for a scene with just the "lady with the red dress"... so I could rest my eyes. Way to single out the least compelling performer for praise there, genius.

From Warwick Thompson for

Austrian mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager looks stunning in a silky 1930s-style evening gown with weighted pleats. She acts with poise, and uses a palette of vocal emotions to create a seductive portrait of Melisande.

The only true statements in that sentence are that Kirchschlager is Austrian and she is a mezzo. The rest is lies, all lies!

Also Warwick Thompson:

Nordey sets the story on a bare, darkened stage. Emmanuel Clolus's set is made up of huge gray boxes which open to reveal differently textured walls of light, sometimes suggesting a castle garden, sometimes a dungeon.

Thompson must be the highly suggestible sort, he probably gets hypnotized when people count out loud within his earshot. And if writing "Sentez-vous l'odeur de mort qui monte?" (Can you smell the odor of death that rises?) on the wall makes a place a dungeon, I'd love to be the real estate agent who sells Mr. Thompson his next home. I could just paint "This is a nice house!" in huge letters on the wall and wait for him to open his wallet.

There were some reviews that were thoroughly good and well-written, but I just like to pick on stupid people.

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