2017.06 Prolog, Magazine of Vienna State Opera: Alles Glück Spielt Sich in der Ferne Ab

Prolog, the magazine of Vienna State Opera, 06.2017

Alles Glück Spielt Sich in der Ferne Ab

All Happiness Lies in the Distance


Translated by Gudrun

Link to original article in German

Let’s start with a question that seems to suggest itself: Benjamin Bruns was cast as Pelléas. You have stepped in for him. But Mr Bruns is a tenor and you are a baritone. How can that work?

Adrian Eröd: Actually, the role was originally sung at the premiere by a baritone, Jean Périer, who sang Don Giovanni and Scarpia among other roles – in other words, a genuine baritone. Basically, the part suits the baritone voice very well, but there are some high notes which you have to have: two high A and something between F and G sharp. But most of it, especially the essential part of the text, is set in a range which is not that comfortable for tenors.

With two baritones – doesn’t the sound difference between the brothers disappear?

AE: All evening the part of  Golaud sits a minor third below Pelléas, and when it goes down it becomes “bass baritone-like”. His outbreaks rather go in the direction of an Escamillo. That means he definitely sounds more grown up.

You have sung Pelléas very often, now you are interpreting Golaud for the first time.  Are you still familiar with the world of Pelléas?

Simon Keenlyside: Astonishingly familiar even though I deliberately took a break of several years from this opera. Taking leave from Pelléas hurt – it is simply a wonderful role. But the fact that I’m familiar with that world is of very little use for Golaud. This is something quite different. Not an easy role, by the way… but as long as the sets are good – and we have wonderful sets – as long as I have such colleagues as I have in this production, it’s just a great joy. Adrian is such a great Pelléas, vocally and physically perfect and an infinitely charming person at that. So things aren’t made difficult for me. Apart from that Golaud is a fantastic role: I would like to sing it until the end of my life!

How different are the brothers Pelléas and Golaud, apart from the minor third?

AE: And except for the difference in age, because, with Maeterlink at least, Pelléas is still very  young and Golaud is, so to speak, a “Broeckerl” (Austrian for a strapping, grown-up man). So let’s say there are about twenty years between them. But I believe they have more in common than you would think. It is obvious that both of them can’t endure staying in that castle any longer, both want to get away, each of them in his own way. Basically there is a connection between them. The problem is that they both love Mélisande.

SK: But somewhere within himself Golaud knows he cannot leave, he belongs in that place. As it were, he IS that place, he is a part of it. And he will own all that one day. All that darkness and gloominess, those colours, they are well-known to him, also the scenery, the surroundings. They are part of Golaud’s soul. Like in a painting by Caspar David Friedrich.  Pelléas is different, he is full of light, ideas, idealism, youth – he has to leave. Golaud is stuck, it’s impossible for him to get away.

AE: Golaud also has something animal-like, something earthy. Pelléas doesn’t have that, except for two or three moments in which it breaks through the youthful surface. Then you can see the kinship. In the beginning much of what is going on within Pelléas is completely unconscious. But at some time or other something happens in him that has nothing to do with the heart or the head but lies deeper down.

SK: It is quite possible that two people who are related to each other are different in most respects. Golaud doesn’t feel a particular closeness to Pelléas. He hardly speaks about him with affection except for, perhaps, pity. Strictly speaking, however, everything Golaud is concerned with is Golaud himself. He keeps saying “I, I, I”. The brother is not that important. The bond, the connection, that’s what I miss in Golaud.

Olga Bezsmertna, the Mélisande of this production, said that Mélisande doesn’t understand love on the whole. How about the other characters in this respect?

 AE: Mentally, also Pélleas doesn’t quite understand the matter. But perhaps he feels love in a stronger way than Mélisande. In the sense that it is more out of the ordinary for him. Mélisande is like an innocent Lulu. Everybody who sees her falls in love with her and that makes her happy and she somehow takes it for granted. She loves men and is loved by them. That’s why her love for Pelléas is not something that shakes her to her very core. While Pelléas and Golaud freak out because of love, with her it’s something inside herself, something she is deeply familiar with. And at the very beginning the story isn’t yet destructive. As long as it doesn’t become physical it remains an exuberant young love. Carefree. Even though 150m above the abyss.

SK: For Golaud the thing about love is not so easy. I don’t want to judge the heart of a man who lost his first wife. To engage yourself openly once again with your feelings in this situation  is not so easy and self evident. There is in spite of everything the pain over the loss and it will always be there. Therefore he clings to Mélisande and this whole love story is like a straw. Does he love Mélisande? I think, yes. It is for him a hope, a hope for the future. He sees a way out for himself and he wants to go this way at all costs. You don’t know anything about his relationship with his first wife except that Golaud walks with great melancholy through this evening of opera. He is sad and broken. When she cries he is startled. He didn’t think that she was unhappy. Maybe he should have asked. On the other hand: why did Mélisande marry him? Why do people marry? Always because of love? You read in the newspapers of so many reasons: beauty, money, security. Mélisande, alone in the darkness: what should she do? Without shelter, without help…

 Does he feel happiness?

 SK: He could possibly have become happy. But actually it is all out of reach. Golaud wants to be happy, Melisande would like to be happy. But no one is happy now, at the moment. All happiness lies in the distance.

In all the misfortune, a simple good-evil or black-and-white scheme does not work.

AE: I think that would be too simple. Golaud is not bad, but desperate. Pelléas is not bad, he simply fell in love, in a manner of speaking without intending to. And it is the same with Mélisande. You can’t blame them for love as such. And Golaud can’t cope with the situation – that’s why he is desperate. Everything that happens is a consequence of this despair, to the point of murder. Of course he becomes guilty, but he is not evil.

SK: As with every great masterpiece, this opera is also a reflection of real life. This is what makes the opera relevant for us, for us today. It is about life. And everything that happens in the plot, is regularly mentioned in the newspapers.

 If the story is so common, are the figures archetypes?

 SK: Archetypes? I don’t think so.  If the lock of a bicycle has four digits –  how many combinations and possibilities do you have? A human being has just as many possibilities of behaving and feeling! A stubborn man whose first wife has died meets a younger woman. He has a brother who is also younger. This cannot result in ONE story but in endless stories. How the story is weighted, how the characters are, what they are driven by – this is defined by the viewpoint of the director. For instance Mélisande – she is a mystery. Not guilty as Adrian has said. But also not innocent. But simply a human being. All the characters in the opera are like this.

Does the symbolic blurring which the opera possesses help with the creation of the characters? In the sense that it gives more freedom.

SK: During the course of my singer’s life I have found out that it is dangerous if you have too many possibilities and want to use them all. If you want to show too much, in the end the audience does not see anything. You have to focus on one or two things. The director, the lighting designer, the stage director – in our case a unity – and the costume designer, have to take care of the symbolism. I, as the singer, have to choose a focus and this focus must be clear. Real feelings, real play. Nothing is allowed to be kept approximate.

AE: I see it just the same. The director has to have a clear view in front of him of what he wants. This is the frame in which we, the singers, then move. There have to be fixed moments and these moments are basically given by the music and the text. You can hold on to these fixed points. The freedoms lie somewhere in between.

SK: What I find interesting with Debussy in this context is that he ascribes to the singers a variety of colours. A very specific set and no more. In this opera Pelléas has bright, young aspects. Golaud has very different ones. In the interplay this produces a puzzle of different moods/atmospheres.

This means, however, that only those areas of the personality can be lived out.

 SK: Yes. Pelléas is not yet a grown up man. I never found Pelléas emotionally fulfilling, in the sense of being completely cathartically cleansed.

AE: But I want to say that the opera as a whole has a very cathartic effect on me. It wipes me out totally, so to say. It always had this effect on me, that the atmosphere, the music drove me into the work with an irresistible force. The music becomes more and more and more physical, tighter and denser up to the murder. Then it is no longer symbolic but direct, sharp emotion.  The finale takes off again into an unreality. The end in C sharp-major – it no longer has anything to do with this world.




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