Hidden away up an alleyway behind the COC’s ioffice and rehearsal complex is a very beautiful garden. I say hidden because I lived less than 200m away for 10 years before I discovered it. Last night it made a rather magical setting for Against the Grain Theatre’s new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. The piece is set in a gloomy castle and surrounding forest in Brittany. The high, ivy covered walls and ironwork of the performance space, enhanced by Camelia Koo’s fractured flagstones forming patterns on the grass, evoked the essentially sunless world of Maeterlinck’s poem. Costuming in the style of the period’s composition meshed nicely with the aesthetic of the roughly contemporary space.
Joel Ivany’s use of the space, typically moving his actors slowly through and across the space reinforced the meditative quality of the music. Even the ambient noise; twilight birdsong, contributed to the atmosphere (the emergency vehicle sirens and helicopter less so). For once too, the decision to use piano accompaniment didn’t detract much if at all. The music has few dramatic moments and sounds almost as if composed for piano (as Leslie Barzca has pointed out, perhaps it was).
The performances too were very fine. The piece is anchored by the Mélisande of Miriam Khalil. She conveys the fragility of the character beautifully while singing with a gorgeous rich, but not over heavy, tone. Etienne Dupuis similarly conveys the strange mixture of youthful passion and deep sadness that is Pelléas. Greg Dahl also convinces as the moody, jealous and violent Golaud. There’s a touch of coarseness here, at odds with everything around it, that feels very right. Alain Coulombe plays the aged king Arkel with great dignity and pathos. His deep bass, perfect diction and ability to convey dignitas and sorrow simultaneously were very impressive. This fine cast was rounded out by cameos by Andrea Nuñez as the young boy Yniold and Megan Latham as the brothers’ mother Geneviève. The piano accompaniment was tirelessly and sensitively provided by Julien LeBlanc.
Pelléas et Mélisande is something of a slow burn opera and there are no musical fireworks on display but if one is up for a profoundly moving, rather meditative experience, it has its charms; particularly when presented on such a fitting way. It’s another palpable hit for the Against the Grain Team. There are three more performances. Monday and Wednesday are sold out but there are a few $60 tickets left for Saturday and tickets can be obtained here.
The production photos are by Darryl Block and give a good feel for the production. They don’t though give a sense of the space. So I took some shots myself.