Pelleas and Melisande

A bit late writing about this production which has been and gone, but wanted to share my thoughts.The production was my second at Garsington with Michael Boyd after last year’s Eugene Onegin. 

Debussy’s symbolist masterpiece demands a bold approach , how do you deal with its  fairytale plot of distressed princesses discovered in dark woods, a palace that seems almost sleeping beautyesque in its atmosphere of moribund decay? It is an opera that talks repeatedly of the dark, figures emerge from the shadows, only in the final death scene of Melisande do we get the windows opened to let in the light of the sun. 

The huge design challenge at Garsington is how to deal with the first half of the piece where the room is flooded with natural daylight. On a good day the sun streams onto the stage from stage left, and the audience have a clear view of the well-tended, anything but moribund, gardens of the Wormsley Estate. So I abandoned earlier, more abstract, approaches to the piece to create as enclosing an environment as possible. Michael was drawn to the ruined grandeur of Detroit , fin-de-siecle ballrooms that have fallen into complete ruin, nature invades to create a world of decayed beauty. A single environment that could give the sense of an overgrown forest, a palace, the pools in the woods and provide a place for the famous scene where Melisande lets down her extremely long hair ! The structure did the best I could to keep out natural light, it behaved like a sculptural installation of the room. In the theatre space all the outer surfaces that were visible from the garden were black .The interior was gold and deep cobalt blue , a colour scheme inspired by the symbolist paintings of Redon, the floor was smashed through to give us a pond and the floor covers in grass as the outside world invades the inside.

Pelleas and Melisande Garsington 17



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