Max Lewendel

Review: PELLÉAS & MÉLISANDE at The Playground Theatre

Pelléas et Mélisandre Inspired by the Rapunzel fairy tale as well as Tristan and Isolde, there is nothing that is not necessary in this bold take on Debussy’s classic told by brand new company, Opera on the Move. The simplicity of their staging with just five supremely talented singers, two strong (and shamefully uncredited) pianists, and limited design team will make them one to watch.

In a time out of time, and a place out of setting, Prince Goland (Benjamin Schileroort) finds the mysterious and intoxicating Mélisande (Emilie Cavallo) in the woods and immediately takes her home to be his wife. Younger brother, Prince Pelléas (Ben Thapa) sees the enchanting new princess and… well, you know the rest. We’re not looking for surprising story turns in opera, we’re looking for beautiful singing.

And that we get. In spades. All five cast sing like angels. The acting never falls below mediocre, yet never truly excels… But thankfully that’s not what we’re here for. Thapa’s acting skills are the best – his hunger for Mélisande palpable – but although Cavallo certainly can act, she never truly emotes back at her lover. Another standout is Goland’s daughter Yniold (Naomi Couquet), whose angelic voice is saved for when it is most needed.

Elegant projection on the back wall by Lucia Sanchez Roldan ably sets the scene. Lighting by Gabriel Finn is woefully thought-out, highlighting characters that should not be seen, and having no dexterity nor nuance of colour, which often distracts. The same could be said about costumes by Phett Waiv, but we don’t notice as much despite a perplexing plastic raincoat and modern sneakers adorning otherwise simple, Grecian costumes.

If you aren’t fluent in French (as I am certainly not) and interested in following the story, do make sure you pick a seat with a clear view of the English subtitles (on a screen on the right, along the back wall). Sat in the second row, this was usually obscured by an actor, pianist, or head of the person in front of me.

I do wish that the production packed an emotional punch, and hit me in the heart. But maybe this is a story so steeped in white, patriarchal themes that they just don’t resonate today. Still, an opportunity to see opera in such a stripped back and pure way should not be missed. We should all wish this young and spritely company best of luck in all their work, and take part with them in a unique experience.

A bold, stripped-back story for those looking for an introduction to French opera without any frills.