Opera Scotland

Mary Garden as Melisande

Pelléas and Mélisande in Scotland

Posted 19 Feb 2017

Pelléas et Mélisande was first produced in Scotland on 21 November 1913 at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh.

The performers were the Denhof Opera Company, a touring organization based in Edinburgh.  This company was founded by the expatriate Austrian musician Dr Ernst Denhof, initially to give performances of Wagner’s Ring. Instrumental support came from the Scottish Orchestra, as the RSNO was then known.

The conductor was Hans Schilling-Ziemssen and Hermann Gura directed. The soloists, singing in English, included Walter Hyde (Pelléas), Beryl Freeman (Mélisande), Ernest von Pick (Golaud), Maud Santley (Geneviève) and Harison Cook (Arkel).

Scottish Opera

Very nearly fifty years passed before the opera was heard here again. It featured alongside Madama Butterfly, in the first ever week of performances by Scottish Opera at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, in June 1962. Alexander Gibson conducted the Scottish National Orchestra in a production directed by Dennis Arundell. Emile Belcourt sang Pelléas, with Micheline Grancher (Mélisande), Louis Maurin (Golaud), Laura Sarti (Geneviève) and both Joseph Rouleau and John Shirley-Quirk as Arkel.

To celebrate its tenth anniversary of operations, Scottish Opera took another look at the piece in 1972, with a production directed by Colin Graham in atmospheric designs by John Fraser. Alexander Gibson again conducted, with George Shirley, Jeanette Pilou, John Shirley Quirk, Anna Reynolds and Joseph Rouleau in the leading roles.

The success of this staging ensured its regular revival over several years. In autumn 1973 it joined Tristan und Isolde to represent the company on its first visit to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Anne Howells now joined the team, and her Mélisande was seen regularly in future. The 1975 revival also introduced Patricia Kern as Geneviève and Robert Lloyd as Arkel. The final performances, in October 1979, saw the production appear for the first time at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Roderick Brydon now conducted, with a largely new team including Alan Titus and Lilian Sukis in the title roles.

Edinburgh International Festival

Pelléas was seen at the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time in 1978. This was also in the much-admired Scottish Opera staging. Thomas Allen made his first appearance alongside Anne Howells. Lenus Carlson sang Golaud, with Gillian Knight as Geneviève, while Joseph Rouleau sang his last performances.

The 1985 Festival featured a visit by the Opéra de Lyon, under conductor John Eliot Gardiner. He re-arranged the orchestra pit in a fascinating way so the instruments were blended individually, not in sections, with a strangely ethereal sound spectrum resulting. Pierre Strosser’s staging was also very different, very simple and almost anti-romantic. The superb singers included François Le Roux, Diana Montague and José Van Dam.

More recently, the Hanover State Opera came to the Festival in 2004. The production by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito took the anti-romantic reading a stage further, with a cast conducted by Shao-Chia Lü that was led by Will Hartmann, Alla Kravchuk and Oliver Zwarg.

Other performances

In October 2005 the RSNO returned to this work after a gap of several decades, including two semi-staged performances in their winter concert season. Stéphane Denève was in charge of a cast that featured Jean-François Lapointe and Natalie Dessay, with Laurent Naouri as Golaud and Robert Lloyd returning as Arkel

Our illustration of Mélisande features Mary Garden, the Scottish soprano who created the part in 1902.

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