OP3228. PELLEAS ET MELISANDE, Live Performance, 16 Oct., 2003, w.Bernard Haitink Cond. Boston Symphony Orch.; Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Simon Keenlyside, Gerald Finley, Nathalie Stutzmann, John Tomlinson, etc. (Canada) 3-St Laurent Studio stereo YSL T-521, brilliantly recorded in Symphony Hall. [This luminous live performance beautifully displays the splendor of the Symphony Hall acoustic.] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"The response to the Boston Symphony Orchestra's luminous concert performances of Debussy's PELLEAS ET MELISANDE in Boston and New York was almost unanimously ecstatic. The BSO sounded glorious in this music, which it had never before played in full, and there was a superb cast headed by the intelligent Simon Keenlyside and the sublime Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Bernard Haitink's reading of the score was revelatory!
The Symphony Hall performances may have marked the Dutch maestro's final appearances as principal guest conductor; he deserves to be named musician of the year, not just for his programs in 2003 but for his whole extended tenure as an esteemed and beloved member of the BSO family. Haitink has conducted in Boston more often than in any other American city. The BSO is the better for it, and the public owes him a debt of deep gratitude."
- Richard Dyer, THE BOSTON GLOBE, 28 Dec., 2003
"...in Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's MELISANDE the audience experienced a miracle. Others on the story describe MELISANDE's voice - 'a voice from the ends of the world'. Lieberson, luminous in a simple white dress, alone fulfilled Debussy's dictum about never sounding like an opera singer - her timbre was as transparent and as fluid as water, and it always told the truth, even when MELISANDE was lying. She could communicate unhappiness and suffering, fear of darkness, love of light, and she suffused Symphony Hall with the rapture of her joy. She took us on a voyage of the soul, and when that soul left us, we felt a sense of personal and irreplaceable loss."
- Richard Dyer, THE BOSTON GLOBE, 17 Oct., 2003
"With the exquisite mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing MELISANDE, and the renowned Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink at the podium, this Debussy opera brought out the best in the Boston Symphony's [performance under Bernard Haitink]. While Mr. Haitink drew radiant Impressionistic colorings from the orchestra, steeped by long tradition in the refined French sound, he also plumbed the score for its weighty, Wagnerian resonances. The performance had an eerily calm tension, a quality essential to this story of buried yearnings and guarded secrets in a vaguely medieval setting, with a libretto adapted from the play by the Belgian symbolist author Maurice Maeterlinck.
The wistful beauty and wondrous nuances of Ms. Hunt Lieberson's singing were ideal for the mysterious Melisande, whom the widower prince, Golaud, discovers lost in the forest outside his castle, weeping, fearful and utterly evasive. What she is running from we never learn. Taking refuge in the older Golaud's love, she joylessly marries him, only to find her emotional barricade threatened by Golaud's handsome young half-brother, Pelleas. Every phrase Melisande sings must shimmer with ambiguity, and Ms. Hunt Lieberson hauntingly conveyed this quality. When she forlornly told the suspicious Golaud that she thought that the sullen Pelleas did not like her, you understood the uneasy truth lurking beneath her self-deception.
The role of Pelleas falls awkwardly on the divide between the tenor and baritone ranges. This performance offered the appealing British baritone Simon Keenlyside as Pelleas, and in certain high-lying passages his voice seemed hard-pressed. But his warm and plaintive sound affectingly suited the role. In the scene in which Pelleas smothers his face in Melisande's long tresses, which she lets fall from the window of her tower bedroom, Mr. Keenlyside's quivering intensity, Ms. Hunt Lieberson's veiled longing and the suppressed stirrings of the orchestra under Mr. Haitink made this music seem more dangerous than ever.
Though the baritone Gerald Finley's voice was rather light for the brooding Golaud, he compensated with dark and volatile singing. The bass John Tomlinson brought earthy, Wagnerian power to his portrayal of the aging king, Arkel. Also fine were the dusky-toned contralto Nathalie Stutzmann as Genevieve, the mother of Pelleas and Golaud; the sweet-voiced boy soprano James Danner as Yniold, Golaud's timorous son by his first wife; and the bass-baritone Alfred Walker in two minor roles."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 22 Oct., 2003
"Unencumbered by the usual fey stage realizations of PELLEAS ET MELISANDE's Impressionist landscape, Haitink and his superb cast gave the most urgent, dramatic reading of the score within recent memory; this was, for once, truly a story rich in passion, played for life-or-death stakes. Orchestral contours were bold and sinewy, but never at the expense of color or point; the music had the aura of legend and myth.
Many critics and listeners alike lament that we're living in the Antiseptic Age of music-making, dominated by streamlined, highly proficient performances that somehow fail to move us on a deep level. Possibly true - but isn't it also true that the really galvanizing performances were always somewhat few and far between? In October, I was fortunate enough to hear a performance I consider inarguably, unqualifiedly great: a concert version of PELLEAS ET MELISANDE, with Bernard Haitink conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a cast headed by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Simon Keenlyside and Gerald Finley....Never has Debussy's mysterious work sprung to life quite so vividly. I have heard other conductors settle for turning the score into a plush pillow of sound - sumptuous but not always dramatically compelling, and bordering on one-dimensional. Haitink and the BSO, on the other hand, gave a lean, muscular reading that gave full play to the score's light and dark elements.
A few weeks later, I spoke by telephone with Haitink. He deflects compliments quickly, shifting the focus to the players: 'The BSO has something with French music', he says. 'They can play it extremely well. I find it difficult to recommend my own way of conducting. I do not believe in a Debussy which is vaguely 'impressionistic' - I think it is clear in many ways. It's a very somber world, but there are bright moments - the fountain scene, for example. And Debussy has done it with such an incredible lightening up of sound that you simply must do it that way. The best thing when one has to interpret these pieces is to follow the composer. Let him take you by the hand'."
- F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, Jan. 2004, vol 68 , #7
"Nobody should take on Debussy's PELLEAS ET MELISANDE casually - not singers, not orchestras and especially not audiences. This concert was a classic example. The Boston Symphony Orchestra was performing under Bernard Haitink with a handpicked cast featuring Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Simon Keenlyside in the title roles; the event had a 'highlight-of-the-season' buzz from the day it was announced. What made [Keenlyside's] Pelleas great - and I don't use this word lightly - were all the usual elements of good performance and then some. His use of the French language wasn't merely clear and alert to word-painting; his pronunciation suggested he was interpreting the language for the sheer beauty of its sound, just as Impressionist painters used color for its own sake. Dramatically, his performance was emotionally alive, but with an extra sense of purpose that comes with the understanding that the world Pelleas inhabits is essentially arid and loveless with an undercurrent of cruelty, and that his feelings for Melisande are his only way out of this genteel hell.
Orchestrally, the Opera is in some ways ideal for Haitink: the contemplative dignity he has long brought to Bruckner transfers well to Debussy's superficially static drama. Admirably, Haitink recognizes that this is an opera about people who are lost together - lost because they're all prisoners of their own psyches - and that they are buffeted toward and away from each other by fate, chance and natural phenomena. While this awareness seemed to inspire any number of jewel-like details in the characters' individual moments, Haitink provided an overriding sense of symphonic cohesiveness which reminded you that these characters are making their way through a world far beyond their control. The Boston Symphony played with a sonority and an institutional authority that comes with a long history with Gallic and Francophile conductors."
- David Patrick Stearns, ANDANTE
"Bernard Haitink, an unaffected maestro who led Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years and was known for presenting powerful readings of the symphonies of Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven conducting orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, had long associations in Britain with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Festival. He was also a prolific recording artist, putting on disc the complete symphonies of nearly a dozen canonical composers - sometimes twice.
Mr. Haitink let the music emerge from the orchestra, often transcendently, without imposing a heavy-handed interpretation that a star conductor might. His self-effacing nature was noticed early on. He was ‘not one of the glamour boys on the podium’, Harold C. Schonberg, the chief classical music critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote in January 1975 after Mr. Haitink’s debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducting Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, ‘he is a dedicated musician, always on top of the music, getting exactly what he wants from his players’. Reviewing his performance of the same symphony with the Philharmonic in 2011, the critic Steve Smith wrote in THE TIMES: ‘Some conductors strive for mysticism in late Bruckner; Mr. Haitink, with his unerring sense of shape, transition and flow, lets the music speak for itself, with results that can approach the supernatural and often did here’.
Mr. Haitink began conducting opera in the 1960s and made his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1972, leading Mozart’s DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL. He was music director of the Glyndebourne Opera from 1977 to 1988 and of the Royal Opera from 1987 to 2002. In an opera world where increasingly outlandish stagings were becoming the fashion, Mr. Haitink had a strategy when required to conduct a production he didn’t like. ‘One closes one’s eyes and lives in the music’, he said in a 2009 interview with THE GUARDIAN.
In addition to the Concertgebouw, Mr. Haitink held conductorships of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Dresden Staatskapelle. He also regularly led the Vienna Philharmonic, and in 2006 he was hired as principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
His reputation for being unassuming trailed him throughout his career. In 1967, TIME magazine described him as ‘a short, quiet man who likes to take long bird-watching rambles in the woods’, and pointed out that ‘in a profession where flamboyance and arrogance are often the hallmarks of talent, the diffident Haitink is an anomaly’.
Mr. Haitink’s colleagues lauded his modesty, integrity and musicianship when he was awarded the prestigious GRAMOPHONE Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. Mr. Haitink frequently gave master classes. In an event held at the Royal College of Music in London, he wryly advised a class of young conductors not to criticize the orchestra musicians since any flaws might be as much the mistake of the conductor as of the players. “’You are there to give them confidence even if things aren’t going perfectly’, he said. ‘Mr. Haitink, with his unerring sense of shape, transition and flow, lets the music speak for itself’, a critic once wrote, ‘with results that can approach the supernatural’. He conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass., in 2006.
In 2011, in another interview with THE GUARDIAN, Mr. Haitink mused on the strange life of a conductor. ‘I have been doing this job for 50 years’, he said. ‘And, you know, it is a profession and it is not a profession. It’s very obscure sometimes. What makes a good conductor? What is this thing about charisma? I’m still wondering after all these years’.”
- Vivien Schweitzer, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Oct., 2021