In May 2018, Pelléas et Mélisande returned to Berlin Staatsoper for the first time in a decade in time for the Claude Debussy centenary. Ruth Berghaus’ richly symbolic production from 1991 numbered among a handful of technically complex stagings unable to transfer to the Schiller Theater, the opera company’s home between 2010-2017.
Berghaus’ production is equal parts Dr. Caligari and Dr. Seuss. Berghaus, who died in 1996, is best-known for her interpretations of Brecht (she was responsible for the original production of the Brecht / Dessau collaboration, Die Verurteilung des Lukallus). Her vision for Pelléas was a stage concept as abstract yet strangely affecting as the Debussy score. It features a rotating metallic set, a sleek cave-like structure with jarring confrontations of curves and angles. A sloping mound represented the well and a steep yellow staircase is the scene of the lover’s Act III encounter, and later of Golaud’s jealous lookout. The oddball costumes and pastel lighting added a storybook quality that leaven the heaviness of the sets and seemed to bring out the music’s lighter hues.
The blocking is intensely physical, replete with pantomime and stylized gestures of longing. In Mélisande’s death scene, her newborn infant – a doll – is passed from Golaud to Arkel as she ascends the harrowing staircase in a series of ritualized movements. Aside from providing a suitable visual complement to the music, the metallic sets resonates the onstage voices beautifully. Even Yniold rings out with a fullness and immediacy more reserved for recordings (his costume, however, makes him resemble an umpa lumpa).
UPCOMING PERFORMANCES 25. 29. Mai 1. 7. Juni 2019