Programme Guide

“All the stars are falling,” Pelléas sings in the fourth act of Claude Debussy’s Maeterlinck opera Pelléas et Mélisande. “On you and me!” Mélisande answers. A short time before, the two confessed their forbidden love to each other. What follows is the showdown: the couple sees – emerging from the darkness – Mélisande’s husband Golaud, rushing towards them with a drawn sword. Inflamed with rage, he strikes down his half-brother Pelléas, while Mélisande flees wounded.

A new chapter was opened in music history when Debussy’s drame lyrique was staged on 30 April 1902 at the Paris Opéra-Comique. For in the through-composed dramatic work, in which is told the strange story of the two lovers in a mysterious and timeless dream world, there are neither arias nor ensembles. And even the orchestral interludes are organically integrated into the whole – despite the fact that Debussy extended them to their current length only during rehearsals for the premiere, as in their original version they were not long enough for the necessary set changes. Their function is not only to usher the listeners from one scene to the next but also to articulate everything the sung text is not able to articulate. After all, Debussy had in mind for the composition “a dramatic form” in which “the music begins at the point where the word becomes powerless as an expressive force”.

Sir Simon Rattle, who debuted at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden with Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande in April 2008, now conducts the symbolic masterpiece with “his” orchestra in a semi-staged production by Peter Sellars, the Philharmoniker’s Artist in Residence this season, whose stagings of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 2010 and St John Passion in 2014 were both overwhelming successes. Magdalena Kožená and Christian Gerhaher take on the title roles. The Canadian bass baritone Gerald Finley sings Golaud, while Bernarda Fink is heard as Geneviève and Franz-Josef Selig as King Arkel.

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