The Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst present world premiere of new production of Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande in May 2017 at Severance Hall
Performances continue the Orchestra’s annual series of innovative opera productions
Creative Team announced: Director Yuval Sharon leads team featuring Set Designer Mimi Lien and Lighting and Projection Designer Jason Thompson
Release: October 6, 2016
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Orchestra and Music Director Franz Welser-Möst announce further details of their new production of Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande. The impressionistic French opera, with its luminous and hypnotic score, is being presented at Severance Hall this coming spring, with performances May 2, 4, and 6, 2017. The creative team for this brand-new, made-for-Cleveland production is being led by Director Yuval Sharon working with Set Designer Mimi Lien, Lighting and Projection Designer Jason Thompson, Choreographer Danielle Agami, and Costume Designer Ann Closs-Farley.
Derived from Maurice Maeterlinck’s surrealist play of 1893, the opera Pelléas and Mélisande tells an enigmatic tale of two fallen lovers, whose passions are destined by the realities surrounding them. The work, premiered in 1902, was composed when Impressionism was a new and radical force in the arts and is Claude Debussy’s only completed opera. While its storyline shares thematic links to the timeless legend of Tristan and Isolde, Debussy’s score also shares musical connections with the groundbreaking harmonies — and dramatic underpinnings — of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde (1865). In spring 2018, the Orchestra will perform Tristan and Isolde.
For the Cleveland production, soprano Martina Jankováwill interpret the role of Mélisande. Cleveland audiences will remember Martina’s riveting performances as the Vixen in the Orchestra’s groundbreaking 2014 production of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, as well as her earlier work in Mozart’s Da Ponte operas, 2009-11. Baritone Elliot Madore, who received rave reviews for performances asPelléas in 2015 at the Bavarian State Opera, makes his Cleveland Orchestra debut in the title role. Additional cast members include bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Golaud), bass Peter Rose (Arkel), mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby,(Geneviève), and soprano Julie Mathevet (Yniold) and baritone David Castillo (Doctor/Shepherd), in their Cleveland Orchestra debuts.
“I have wanted to do this impressionistic opera with The Cleveland Orchestra for a number of years,” comments Franz Welser-Möst. “But I had been waiting for the right time, to have the right singers and the right creative team, so that we could together tackle the psychological depths of the action onstage and within this piece. In fact, there is not a lot of action onstage — this is not Verdi or Puccini. On one level, there is little immediately dramatic about this work. Instead, this opera is dreamlike. The action is inside the characters, inside the music. In Pelléas and Mélisande, Debussytakes the romantic feelings of the characters and weaves them into a mesmerizing and fascinating continuum. He identified their desires in an almost Sigmund Freudian subconscious way, and he wrote that into the music.”
“With the trusting relationship that Franz and I developed with Vixen, it is truly exciting for me to think about what Pelléas can and will be for Cleveland,” says Yuval Sharon, who directed The Cleveland Orchestra’s innovative production of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2014. “Our collaboration on Pelléas wouldn’t happen without Franz Welser-Möst’s incredible appetite for new ways of presenting opera. He’s focused on unlocking each piece for the individual listener and creating something meaningful that can be shared with an audience, with the community. I deeply connect with Franz’s wish to take an opera, no matter when it was written, and make it feel alive today and foresee how relevant and vital it can be for centuries to come.”
“Yuval Sharon is one of the most talented, ingenious people I’ve ever met,” says Welser-Möst. “Yuval always has new ideas, yet they are also always extremely true and faithful to the piece. He is very musical, and he understands how the music and the drama go together hand-in-hand. He works with the music and the texts to develop his ideas. For Pelléas and Mélisande, he understands that the drama is inside the music, inside the characters. And Yuval is developing a concept, with a transparent box, that can be both clear and opaque, that reveals at one moment but obscures in another, which can emphasize the shifting and dreamlike nature of this opera. This box will help explore deeply into the psyche of the characters. I am very excited by this idea, because it mirrors the way Debussy’s music works in the opera. It also immediately solves some of the limitations of Severance Hall, where we have to work within an incredible but immovable sound shell onstage — Yuval is a master of thinking beyond such limitations, to find a way to use the situation not as a restriction but as an asset.”
FRANZ WELSER-MÖST talks about Pelléas and Mélisande:
“Pelléas and Mélisande is in many ways a child of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, both musically and dramatically. Debussy was totally taken by the new sound world that Wagner had created in Tristan. That opera was very much the climax of German Romanticism, but it was also the beginning of a new line going forward, of trying to understand and explore the psyche of characters in a drama. And Debussy found his own way, musically, to extend beyond Wagner’s achievements. In Pelléas, the drama is much more about the psychology of the characters involved, rather than in the actual plot or storyline. And Debussy accomplished this so successfully through his pioneering efforts at musical impressionism.”
“Freud’s theory of psychological analysis, about the meaning of dreams and especially what they mean erotically, played an enormous role in the arts a century ago, in affecting and changing the way art was both made and how it was interpreted, not just in music, but in painting and sculpture and literature. Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande is all about this kind of erotic dream world, only some of which actually takes place in reality. These characters, these lovers, are seething with passion, with desire, with questioning. Our staging of Pelléas is going to be very much focused on and emphasize this kind of Freudian, modern viewpoint.”
“Debussy’s music for Pelléas and Mélisande is very much like an impressionistic painting. And if you look at it up close, you can’t really see anything. You have to have a certain distance to see the overall picture or structure. And this is exactly how Debussy wrote this opera. To become involved in this music, you need distance. Not that you sit back and keep it distant. Rather, the meaning comes across over time, as you continue to listen throughout the performance — and even afterwards, thinking about it again. As an audience member, if you are open to what is happening, not just between the characters, but inside and within each character, you will be amazed at the kind of intoxicating experience this opera can be.”
This is probably easier for audiences today than it was a hundred years ago, because of what we have all come to see and understand in movies — where the psychology of the characters is hinted at on screen and in the soundtrack. Pelléas predates and anticipates this kind of understanding, but it doesn’t have to feel foreign to people listening today in the 21st century. In fact, it is wonderful in the way it washes over you little by little, to make you aware of the undercurrents.
“Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande follows Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in the balancing of inner and outer drama. Like Tristan, it is narcotic in a way, it is very seductive, in a subtle way that you may not notice at first. You can get drunk, psychologically, if you are open to this music.”
Director YUVAL SHARON talks about Pelléas and Mélisande:
“A central part of the inspiration for this new Cleveland production came from someone very close to The Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez. In his description of Pelléas and Mélisande, Boulez said that it was ‘like a tree surrounded by mist.’ Because the dramatic world of this opera is ethereal and hazy, I wanted to use that idea to visualize this opera, for mist to be a defining element of this production.”
“I started thinking about a glass enclosure in which the characters can be seen, yet they are trapped, as prisoners — because the characters of this opera feel isolated from each other, and their loneliness informs their thoughts and actions. The glass box will fill with fog that may at times overwhelm or completely obscure the actors. The audience won’t see entrances or exits, just characters appearing and disappearing in a landscape of fog. Projections and several other technologies will give the impression of a constantly shifting world surrounding the singer-actors.”
“I hope that audiences that come to experience any opera are looking for something that transcends their everyday life in some way, for something that invites them to see the world in a broader and expanded way, by experiencing an amazing combination of musical and visual worlds.”
The Cleveland Orchestra and Opera
Under Franz Welser-Möst’s direction, The Cleveland Orchestra re-established itself as an important operatic ensemble with Welser-Möst leading annual opera performances during his tenure in Cleveland. In 2008, he led five sold-out performances of a staged production of Dvořák’s opera Rusalka with the Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival. He next brought fully-staged opera back to Severance Hall, following a four-decade absence, with a three-season cycle of Zurich Opera productions of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas. This was followed by concert performances of Strauss’s Salome at Severance Hall and at Carnegie Hall in 2012, and in May 2014 Welser-Möst led an innovative new production of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen combining computer-animated stage design with live action at Severance Hall. In May 2015, he led staged performances of Strauss’s Daphne at Severance Hall, followed by concert performances in New York in July as part of Lincoln Center Festival 2015. In spring 2016 the Orchestra collaborated with The Joffrey Ballet to create a Bartók double-bill of Bluebeard’s Castle and The Miraculous Mandarin.
Director Yuval Sharon
“LA’s avant-garde opera darling” (The Hollywood Reporter) Yuval Sharon has been creating an unconventional body of work exploring the interdisciplinary potential of opera. His productions have been described as “thrilling” (The New York Times), "virtuosic" (Opernwelt), “dizzyingly spectacular” (New York magazine), “ingenious” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “staggering” (Opera News). In 2016, he made his Vienna Staatsoper debut with a new production of Eötvös’s Tri Sestri, and he is the recipient of the 2014 Götz Friedrich Prize in Germany for his acclaimed production of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, originally produced at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe.
In the 2016-17 season, beyond his continued duties as Artistic Director of The Industry, an experimental opera company in Los Angeles, Yuval Sharon will embark on his three-year Artist-Collaborator residency with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While there, he will produce Night and Dreams: A Schubert & Beckett Recital,which explores the relationship between 20th century writer Samuel Beckett and Franz Schubert’s Lieder, performed by tenor Ian Bostridge, Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar, conducted by Marc Lowenstein, and the sound and light installation Vertiginous Tracks, which will exist throughout the 2016-17 season over the escalators at Walt Disney Concert Hall, with sound and music design by Rand Steiger. He will also return to Staatstheater Karlsruhe for a new production of Die Walküre, and to The Cleveland Orchestra, where he will originate a new semi-staged production of Pelléas and Mélisande, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. For more information, visit www.yuvalsharon.com/.
Set Designer Mimi Lien
Mimi Lien is a designer of sets/environments for theater, dance, and opera. Arriving at set design from a background in architecture, she often focuses in her work on the interaction between audience/environment and object/performer. She is an artistic associate with Pig Iron Theatre Company and the Civilians, resident designer at BalletTech, and co-founder of JACK, a performance/art space in Brooklyn. She was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, and is the first set designer ever to achieve this distinction. Select work includes Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 (Lortel Award, Hewes Design Award), Appropriate (Mark Taper Forum), Preludes, The Oldest Boy (Lincoln Center), An Octoroon (Drama Desk and Lortel nominations, Soho Rep/TFANA), and Black Mountain Songs (BAM Next Wave). Lien is a recipient of the Cullman Award for Extraordinary Creativity at Lincoln Center Theater, Lucille Lortel Award, American Theatre Wing Hewes Design Award, LA Drama Critics Circle Award, Barrymore Award, and an OBIE Award for sustained excellence. For more information, visit www.mimilien.com/.
Lighting and Projection Designer Jason Thompson
Jason has worked on over 50 productions as a Projection Designer around the world. His credits include the Broadway musical Baby It’s You!, Venice at the Public Theatre, Remember Me, an international touring show with Parsons Dance Company, and John Cage’s Song Books (a 45-minute selection of Cage compositions performed at Carnegie Hall and in San Francisco by the San Francisco Symphony, and by the New World Symphony in Miami) as well as Crescent City Opera and Invisible Cities, new experimental operas directed by Yuval Sharon. Thompson has received an LA Ovation Award, Jesse Award Nomination, LADCC Nominations, and LA Weekly Theatre Award Nominations for his work. In addition to his professional career, he has taught as an adjunct professor at Cal Arts and UCLA. Jason is a member of USA Local 829. For more information, visit www.jasonhthompsondesign.com/.
OPERA: PELLÉAS AND MÉLISANDE
Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
The Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
with production directed by Yuval Sharon and featuring
Elliot Madore, baritone (Pelléas) – Cleveland Orchestra debut
Martina Janková, soprano (Mélisande)
Hanno Müller-Brachmann, bass-baritone (Golaud)
Peter Rose, bass (Arkel)
Nancy Maultsby, mezzo-soprano (Geneviève)
Julie Mathevet, soprano (Yniold) – Cleveland Orchestra debut
David Castillo, baritone (Doctor/Shepherd) – Cleveland Orchestra debut
DEBUSSY Pelléas and Mélisande (Opera in Five Acts)
(Sung in French with English supertitles)
Yuval Sharon, director
Mimi Lien, set designer
Jason Thompson, lighting and projection designer
Danielle Agami, choreographer
Ann Closs-Farley, costume designer
Luminous and hypnotic — Pelléas and Mélisande is among the most magical and mesmerizing of all opera scores. Composed when Impressionism was a new and radical force, it was Claude Debussy’s only completed opera. This tale of two fallen lovers, derived from Maurice Maeterlinck’s surreal play, resonates with mystery and meaning. Debussy’s beautiful depiction transforms the unending musical longing that Richard Wagner had pioneered with Tristan and Isolde into a tragedy of unique power. It is presented at Severance Hall in a made-for-Cleveland production directed by Yuval Sharon (The Cunning Little Vixen) filled with dream-like realism.
This presentation is supported in part by Hyster-Yale Materials Handling and NACCO Inductries, Inc.
THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA
Under the leadership of Music Director Franz Welser-Möst, The Cleveland Orchestra, recently hailed by The New York Times as “… America’s most brilliant orchestra,” has become one of the most sought-after performing ensembles in the world, setting standards of artistic excellence, creative programming, and community engagement. The strong and ongoing financial support of the ensemble’s home region is driving the Orchestra forward with renewed energy and focus, increasing the number of young people attending concerts, and bringing fresh attention to the Orchestra’s legendary sound and committed programming.
The partnership with Franz Welser-Möst, begun in 2002 and now in its 15th year with the 2016-17 season, has earned The Cleveland Orchestra unprecedented residencies in the U.S. and around the world, including one at the Musikverein in Vienna, the first of its kind by an American orchestra. The Orchestra’s annual residency in Miami, Florida, presented under the name Cleveland Orchestra Miami, entered its tenth year in 2015-16, and involves four weeks of full programming in South Florida, including concerts, community presentations, education programs, and collaborative partnerships.
The Cleveland Orchestra has a long and distinguished recording and broadcast history. A series of DVD and CD recordings under the direction of Mr. Welser-Möst continues to add to an extensive and widely praised catalog of audio recordings made during the tenures of the ensemble’s earlier music directors. In addition, Cleveland Orchestra concerts are heard in syndication each season on radio stations throughout North America and Europe.
Seven music directors — Nikolai Sokoloff, Artur Rodzinski, Erich Leinsdorf, George Szell, Lorin Maazel, Christoph von Dohnányi, and Franz Welser-Möst — have guided and shaped the ensemble’s growth and sound since its founding in 1918. Through tours, residencies, radio broadcasts, and recordings, The Cleveland Orchestra is heard today by a broad and loyal constituency around the world. For more information, visit clevelandorchestra.com.