Impressions of Pelléas

Fully staged production with piano accompaniment, sung in English

Debussy’s music weaves a tragic fairy tale, intimately retold by Peter Brook and Marius Constant. Mistrust and guilt mingle with romantic attraction as Prince Golaud struggles with the growing affection between Mélisande, his mysterious wife, and his brother Pelléas.


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Lisa Keller is an opera and voice coach at the Curtis Institute of Music. She was educated at Catholic University, receiving a degree in piano performance; and at the Brevard Music Center summer program. She received her master's degree from Duquesne University, where she studied with Metropolitan Opera coach Warren Jones.

Upon finishing her graduate work, Ms. Keller was invited by Pittsburgh Opera general director Tito Capobianco to join the company as principal répétiteur, as well as coach and accompanist for its young artist program. She later served as pianist and vocal coach for the Hartt School of Music, Connecticut Concert Opera, and West Chester University School of Music.

Ms. Keller has studied with Maurizio Arena and served as vocal coach for the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera program in Oderzo, Italy.She has served on the music staffs of Opera Philadelphia, Opera Colorado, New Jersey Opera Theater, Wexford Festival Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and Santa Fe Opera. She was principal pianist for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s recent performances of Salome; workshops of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain; and, with Opera Philadelphia, the world premieres of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD by Daniel Schnyder and Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli.

Ms. Keller joined the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in 2004.

R. B. Schlather recently debuted with Opera Philadelphia, directing David Hertzberg’s The Wake World, a site-specific, one-act opera performed at the Barnes Foundation. Last season he made his debut with Wolf Trap Opera directing a double bill of Philip Glass' The Juniper Tree and John Musto'sBastianello. He also directed John Adams' Doctor Atomic for Curtis Opera Theater, and was an artist in residence at the celebrated Williamsburg new-music venue National Sawdust, staging Vasco Mendonca’sThe House Taken Over and Philip Glass’ Madrigal Opera, and leading a workshop developing Handel’s Ariodante.His 2016 staging of David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion was commissioned and produced by Miami-based Art Song and Vocal Chamber Music series IlluminArts as a week-long performance installation at the Perez Art Museum in Miami.

Mr. Schlather has professional affiliations with the Bard Music Festival, Opera Philadelphia, Boston Lyric Opera, Gran TeatredelLiceu, English National Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Canadian Opera Company, Tanglewood Music Festival, New York City Opera, Gotham Chamber Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Portland Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Le Poisson Rouge, Salon/Sanctuary Concerts, and Ash Lawn Opera.


About the Opera

Geneviève reads a letter from her son, the widowed Golaud. In it he describes how he first encountered a mysterious young woman—who cannot give a clear accounting of herself or her origins—weeping by a fountain. It is six months after this meeting, the letter continues, and though Golaud has married the enigmatic Mélisande against his grandfather’s wishes, Golaud is eager for his grandfather, Arkel, to receive them. Arkel consents.

In the garden of Arkel’s castle, Mélisande meets Golaud’s half-brother, Pelléas, who takes her to a fabled well. As Mélisande plays with her wedding band, it disappears deep into the water.

Golaud awakes from a prophetic nightmare; Mélisande comforts him and reveals her unhappiness about being in the castle. Golaud notices that her ring is missing. He implores Mélisande to search for it immediately and suggests that she enlist Pelléas to assist with the futile task. Mélisande combs her long hair in a castle window as Pelléas passes by. She leans out to cover Pelléas in her cascading tresses. Golaud surprises them in what he considers their child’s play. Golaud warns Pelléas to avoid Mélisande.

Increasingly jealous, Golaud questions his young son Yniold about what he has observed of Pelléas and Mélisande’s relationship. Arkel, alone with Mélisande, informs her of Pelléas’s father’s improving health and expresses concern for her unhappiness. Golaud enters abruptly and announces Pelléas’s imminent departure. Golaud grabs Mélisande by her hair and drags her across the floor.

As they say their good-byes, Pelléas and Mélisande profess their love. Golaud interrupts them and kills his brother. Immediately remorseful, Golaud nonetheless demands the truth of Mélisande as to whether she loved Pelléas. Mélisande dies without answering to Golaud’s satisfaction.

by R. B. Schlather

I am interested in what the experience of this piece could be in this room. It's a small, dark room. It's an opera famous for its formal innovation, mystery, and sensuality. The story is the tragedy of a love triangle located in a complex family tree. There are two different casts, two pianos. How to represent that hierarchical power dynamic in this room with two casts that are all contemporaries with one another? How to make the weird, surreal quality of the French poetry immediate?

Peter Brook--the editor of this reduction of Debussy’s opera--is a titanic figure in modern theater. When I was the age of some members of our cast, a colleague told me to read Brook’s The Empty Space, a collection of his iconoclastic lectures about theater. It suggests that the audience’s gaze creates performance, so to perform is to be watched. You don't need much else.

Because we are not in a theater, I want us all to act differently. We are all in a room together. We are all eavesdropping on each other. There is no divide between character and audience. Move around. Eavesdrop from different places. Enjoy the fluidity that is part of the fear of our contemporary reality. There are no borders. There are no divisions. There are no walls. We are out of our comfort zones. We are in this together.

The Curtis Opera Theatre season is sponsored by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation