New release Chandos: Pelléas and Mélisande. Mark Elder ENO 1981

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 11 December 2011 | 7:28:00 pm

Received this press release from Chandos and thought it might be of interest. Released  in January I believe.


Claude Debussy (1862-1918) 
Pelléas and Mélisande
Neil Howlett (baritone), Eilene Hannon (soprano), Robert Dean (baritone), Sarah Walker (mezzo-soprano), John Tomlinson (bass), Rosanne Brackenridge (soprano), Sean Rea (bass)


English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Mark Elder 


CHAN 3177(3) MID PRICE 3 CDs for the price of 2 


This live BBC broadcast of Claude Debussy’s ground-breaking opera Pelléas and Mélisande was 
recorded at the Coliseum in 1981. The unique performance is now available on CD for the first 
time, as part of Chandos’ Opera in English historical series, performed by the English National 
Opera Orchestra and Chorus under Sir Mark Elder, with the soloists Neil Howlett, Eilene 
Hannon, and Robert Dean playing out the tragic love triangle.


It is not so much the extremity of emotions in opera that moves us, but their intensity. And 
intense emotion does not need to be loud, or dramatic. It can be quiet, deep, and profound, as in 
this operatic masterpiece, based on Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama. With its simple setting of 
every day words, and slow-burning passion, the opera emerged in the early twentieth century as 
the very antithesis to the Wagnerian style. In the words of Debussy himself: ‘I imagine a kind of 
drama quite different from Wagner’s in which music would begin where the words are powerless 
as an expressive force. Music is made for the inexpressible.’ 


Debussy purposely avoided elaborate and lyrical language, and wrote in the simplest prose. In 
fact, most of the characters speak to one another in plain speech, and everything they say is, on 
the surface, completely transparent. But the waters run deep, and as questions bring about either 
the wrong reply or no reply at all, the simple language only deepens the obscurity of what is 
actually being said. 


The plot is based on a tragic love triangle. Prince Golaud finds a mysterious young woman, 
Mélisande, lost in a forest. He marries her and brings her back to the castle of his grandfather, 
King Arkel of Allemonde. Here Mélisande becomes increasingly attached to Golaud’s half-
brother, Pelléas, arousing Golaud’s jealousy. Golaud goes to excessive lengths to find out the 
truth about the relationship and Pelléas eventually decides to leave the castle, but he arranges to 
meet Mélisande one last time and the two finally confess their love for each other. Golaud, who 
has been eavesdropping, rushes out and kills Pelléas. Not long after, having given birth to a 
daughter, and with Golaud still begging her to tell him ‘the truth’, Mélisande dies.