Review: “Pelléas et Melisande” Will Leave You Spellbound

Sydney Mancasola as Mélisande, Will Liverman as Pelléas and Kyle Ketelsen (rear) as Golaud in LA Opera's 2023 production of "Pelléas et Mélisande" Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Debussy’s only completed opera, “Pelléas et Melisande” is a dark and shimmering masterpiece that plunges us into an intricate tapestry of allusions and symbolism. Premiering at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1902, it remains a challenging work to stage and appreciate due to its lack of memorable melodies, complex themes, and the enigmatic nature of its central character, Melisande.

Kyle Ketelsen as Golaud (with Sydney Mancasola as Mélisande) in LA Opera’s 2023 production of “Pelléas et Mélisande” Photo: Craig T Mathew

Based on Maeterlinck’s play, the story follows the love triangle between Prince Golaud, his wife Melisande, and his half-brother Pelléas, and explores themes of desire, jealousy, and fate. Golaud finds Melisande wandering near a forest lake and decides to make her his wife, despite knowing very little about her mysterious past. When Melisande develops a special bond with Pelléas, Golaud becomes increasingly jealous and suspicious. As the drama unfolds, secrets are revealed, tensions rise, and tragedy strikes. Bass baritone, Kyle Ketelsen (The Hours / Don Giovanni) delivers a chilling and emotionally charged performance as Golaud, capturing the character’s violent outbursts and tender moments with equal skill. In the hands of a lesser performer, Mélisande’s nature could easily frustrate audiences, but Soprano, Sydney Mancasola (Rigoletto / The Magic Flute) imbues the role with remarkable credibility as she portrays her with skill and nuance. Baritone, Will Liverman (Fire Shut Up My Bones / The Pearl Fishers) as Pelléas also delivers a moving performance as the tormented half-brother who falls for Mélisande, thereby dooming himself.

Sydney Mancasola as Mélisande and Will Liverman as Pelléas in LA Opera’s 2023 production of “Pelléas et Mélisande” Photo: Craig T Mathew

Director David McVicar has created a visually striking world, eschewing the traditional beach setting often associated with the opera for the dismal, rundown interior of a castle inspired by the muted paintings of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi, a contemporary of Debussy. He is aided in no small part by Rae Smith’s scenic and costume design, which amplifies a world of faded grandeur, and the lush lighting scheme by Pablo Santiago with its deep blues and purples that heighten the sense of mystery and danger pervading the work. The orchestral ensemble, conducted by maestro, James Conlon, is also noteworthy for offering beautiful atmospheric moments and allowing the instrumental interludes to shine on their own. L.A. Opera’s “Pelléas et Melisande” is a haunting and deeply affecting opera that demands patience, but hang in there, and it will leave you spellbound.

— Victor Riobo / G. Dhalla

“Pelléas et Melisande” plays at the LA Opera through Apr. 16. Tickets HERE.