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March 9, 2010

Opera Vivente presents adaptation of Debussy's 'Pelleas et Melisande'

Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande" is one of the most elusive of operas. The slow-motion, tragic love-triangle plot, infused with symbolism, is surrounded by music of a rare, gauzy beauty.

Opera companies, especially in this country, are reluctant to take a chance on it, afraid of box office results, but magical things can happen onstage with this work. Even, as Opera Vivente just demonstrated, when it is given in a condition the composer never imagined.

"Impressions of Pelleas" is one-act abridgement by Marius Constant that streamlines the action to its essentials and reduces the orchestral score to a two-piano arrangement.

Of course, Debussy's original is incomparable, and, of course, the seductive sound of the orchestra is major part of the opera's appeal.

But Constant's version has considerable quality and is particularly successful in terms of transforming the score to keyboard.

The music sounds natural and idiomatic on the piano, an instrument, of course, that Debussy wrote for so brilliantly. (You could never get that effect reducing operas by Wagner, Verdi and Puccini.)

I caught the final Opera Vivente performance of "Impressions of Pelleas" Saturday night and found the experience

quite satisfying, among the better things I've seen the company do. The cast seemed strongly connected to the piece, and there was an appealing, unfussy, stylized look to the staging -- 19th century evening dress for the principals, a minimal set by Thomas Bumblauskas gently lit by Peter Jakubowski. Director John Bowen paced the action smoothly and evocatively (from what I could see of it -- a couple of very tall folks were sitting in front of me).

Lisa Eden was a telling Melisande in voice and movement, disarmingly girlish and affectingly vulnerable. Kenneth Gayle sounded more Broadway than opera in terms of tone, but phrased effectively, for the most part. Nathan Wentworth, as Golaud, commanded attention with his solid baritone, expressively detailed articulation and vivid acting.

There was sturdy work from Dina Martire (Genevieve) and David B. Morris (Arkel). Boy soprano Samuel Bishop sang the role of Yniold. Pianists Diane Kinsley and Dana Nichole Scott provided a subtle, beautifully nuanced foundation for the performance.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:46 AM | | Comments (1)


WHY on earth would you write/publish a review so late that I cannot go see what you wrote about?! Makes no sense!

I'm one lil' ol' person trying to cover a whole bunch of stuff (including theater). No matter where I choose to go, I'm bound to disappoint someone. Sorry it was you this time. TS

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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