Saturday, November 2, 2019

A history of baritones and basses in Pelléas et Mélisande at the Metropolitan Opera

Kyle Ketelsen as Golaud at the Met
When barihunk Kyle Ketelsen took the stage at the Metropolitan Opera as Golaud in Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande earlier this year, he stepped into some big shoes. The role had been performed by Pavel Ludikar, John Brownlee, Kim Borg, Thomas Stewart, Gabriel Bacquier, Victor Braun, Willard White (in his Met debut), Gerald Finley and some other very notable singers mentioned below. In fact, the opera has featured some of the greatest singers in Met history in the three main roles for low male voices, Pelléas, Arkel and Golaud (as well as the Shepherd!). The role of Pelléas has been sung by both tenors and baritones at the Met.

The opera premiered at the Met on March 21, 1925 with Lucrezia Bori as Mélisande, future Met General Director Edward Johnson as Pelléas and Clarence Whitehill as Golaud. Bori faced the enviable task of performing the role after the legendary soprano Mary Garden had already performed the role in New York. If it was any consolation, Bori's costumes were designed by the Russian-born French artist and designer Erté. Whitehill, was a prominent Wagnerian bass, who also sang in the Met premiere of Gustave Charpentier's Louise in 1921.

The opera was performed regularly at the Met and on tour, but a legendary figure joined the cast in 1933 when Ezio Pinza  took the stage as Golaud. America go to hear Acts 2 and 3, which were broadcast on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast. A Wall Street Journal review criticized Pinza's French.

A 1944 cast included three of the most glorious low male voices, as Lawrence Tibbett sang Golaud, Alexander Kipnis took on Arkel and Pelléas was cast with baritone Martial Singher. They were joined by the ravishing Mélisande of Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayao. Olin Downes, the reviewer for the New York Times said, "The performance was a triumph unprecedented for this work in American operatic history."

Jacques Jansen as Pelléas:

A 1949 performance was hailed for the Met debut of French baryton-martin Jacques Jansen, who was particularly associated with the role of Pelléas in Europe. Jansen's recording of the opera with Irène Joachim as Mélisande and Roger Désormière conducting the Opéra-Comique from 1941 is to this day considered the definitive recording by many French opera connoisseurs.

In 1953, one of the era's true barihunks, Theodor Uppman, stepped into the role. Famed composer and critic for the New York Herald Tribune Virgil Thomson wrote, "Theodor Uppman, a high barytone, sang Pelléas with a warmth of feeling and a spontaneity of expression all unusual these days; and his appearance was so charming, his grace so unaffected that one believed him at every moment. He was singing Pelléas and being Pelléas." The great bass Jerome Hines sang Arkel. Uppman reprised his performance in 1959 with a stellar cast that included Victoria de los Angeles as Mélisande, George London as Golaud, Giorgio Tozzi as Arkel and Regina Resnik as Geneviève. A 1962 performance with Uppman is notable for the appearance of Teresa Stratas as Yniold, who 15 years later would sing Mélisande on the Met stage with José Van Dam as Golaud.

A 2010 performance, which was broadcast worldwide, featured a cast headed by Stéphane Degout as Pelléas, Gerald Finley as Golaud, Willard White as Arkel, Magdalena Kozená as Mélisande and barihunk Donovan Singletary as the Shepherd.

Ketelsen is currently performing Leporello in Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper Hamburg through November 9. He then heads to the Zurich Opera House to perform Selim in Rossini's Il Turco in Italia from December 10-January 3. He then returns to the U.S. for more Leporellos, this time with the Washington National Opera from February 29-March 22.

Upcoming performances of Pelléas et Mélisande are at Opéra de Dijon with barihunk Laurent Alvaro as Golaud, the Marinsky Theatre, Hamburg State Opera with Simon Keenlyside slated to sing Golaud and at the  Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe with Guillaume Andrieux as Pelléas.

1 comment:

  1. No mention of one of the true greats, Jose Van Dam, as Golaud?