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Debussy Pelleas Et Melisande

06/11/2008
by Stephen McNeff
Stephen McNeff turned his expert hand in operatic composition to an exciting new project with Independent Opera at Sadler’s Wells, who staged a new production of a commissioned chamber orchestration of Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. McNeff's brand new version of Debussy's only opera received its premiere run in November 2008 to great critical acclaim:

Stephen McNeff has re-orchestrated Debussy’s score for 35 players with such skill that you don’t notice the difference. The orchestra, positioned within the stage, sounds warm, vibrant and, under Dominic Wheeler, perfectly attuned to the inner life of characters who always talk one thing and, through the music, articulate another. (Andrew Clark, Financial Times)

...the score sounds like what Debussy might have written for this theatre. (Erica Jeal, Guardian)

For while Debussy's impressionistic score gives every moment its distinctive colour and texture, the reduced palette of McNeff's orchestra somehow manages to convey these contrasts just as distinctly. That said, the orchestra needed to be at the top of its game and the well-rehearsed chamber orchestra, lithe and minutely responsive under the fluent and intelligent conducting of Dominic Wheeler, certainly was that. (Guy Dammann, Observer)

...by using horns and bassoons in place of trombones, returning to the interludes that were deemed too short for the set-changes in the 1902 premiere and deftly reallocating the divisi strings, he has exposed the human frame of Debussy's dreamlike masterpiece. The engorged shadow of Tristan is diminished, quivering echoes of the G-minor String Quartet dance at the edge of one's consciousness, song becomes speech, and the swooning layers of symbolism are unpeeled to reveal an intimate expression of frustrated misery. The reduction is without doubt an extraordinary success... (Anna Picard, Independent on Sunday)

The orchestral undergrowth has been cleared by Stephen McNeff, in his translucent, yet entirely Debussyan, new orchestration for just 35 instruments. And, in the tiny space of the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Alessandro Talevi has devised a production that pares down the psychological implications of Maeterlinck’s words and Debussy’s score to almost Strindbergian bare bones. (Hilary Finch, Times)

Conductor Dominic Wheeler
Director Alessandro Talevi
Designer Madeleine Boyd
Lighting Designer Matthew Haskins
 

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