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Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Claude Debussy, Herbert von Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker
Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (19) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #3

The payoff to Herbert von Karajan's relentless pursuit of ensemble perfection and beauty of sound can be heard in the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic on this recording: by 1978, when it was made, they were indisputab...  more »


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All Artists: Claude Debussy, Herbert von Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker, Frederica von Stade, Richard Stilwell, José van Dam, Ruggero Raimondi, Nadine Denize, Christine Barbaux
Title: Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: EMI Classics
Original Release Date: 1/1/1978
Re-Release Date: 9/21/1999
Album Type: Box set, Original recording remastered
Genre: Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaCD Credits: 3
UPC: 724356716827

Synopsis essential recording
The payoff to Herbert von Karajan's relentless pursuit of ensemble perfection and beauty of sound can be heard in the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic on this recording: by 1978, when it was made, they were indisputably the most polished and flexible orchestra in Europe, and one of the few orchestras anywhere (including France) that was capable of playing French music with real authority. Fittingly, the orchestra is very much at the center of this account of Claude Debussy's uniquely beautiful opera, magnificently projecting the mysterious, darkly translucent world of its fatally entangled characters. The cast, which is led by two Americans--Richard Stilwell as Pelléas and the incomparable Frederica von Stade as Mélisande --and features a Belgian (José van Dam) as Golaud and an Italian (Ruggero Raimondi) as Arkel, is a superb one, not least because those principals who are not French are nonetheless Francophones, and sing with excellent diction and an authentic delivery. Karajan's pacing of the drama, his skill at eliciting just the right intensity from the orchestra, his surpassing gentleness with the singers (balances are superb and every word comes through clearly), and the overall beauty of the orchestral playing make this not only the finest account of Pelléas et Mélisande yet recorded, but one of the most treasurable opera recordings ever, fully worthy of EMI's Great Recordings of the Century designation. --Ted Libbey

CD Reviews

An incredible view of Pelleas et Melisande
Rafael Fernandez Fernandez | 10/22/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is an incredibly dark, rich and moving interpretation of the Debussy masterpiece Pelleas et Melisande. Karajan sees the opera through a Wagner filter with the orchestra playing a powerful role in the drama. Von Stade, Stilwell and especially Van Dam are wonderful in their roles as Melisande, Pelleas and Golaud respectively. This might not be a really French way to approach this most French of creations, but this recording is definitely one of the finest Pelleas and Melisande recordings around."
Sound not worthy of EMI Great Recording Series
J R Sound Police | California | 01/05/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Perhaps the Karajan Pelleas was remastered too early in the EMI Great Recordings series. Unlike most of the other releases in this series, the sound quality is not an improvement upon the earlier CD version. If you have the 1980's release of this opera, there is no need to buy this one. The ART remastering has cleaned up the sound a little, but it represents a step backwards in overall sound quality. The natural echo of music made in a real space is diminished and the recording sounds a few steps removed from real music making.

In the late 1990's EMI issued several ART remasterings with mixed results. Some recordings like the Callas Tosca were a complete disaster with almost all sense of the acoustic space removed (yes, even mono recordings do have a sense of natural echo and depth). However, when the Tosca -- and other recordings such as the Schwarzkopf Rosenkavalier -- were reissued as part of the Great Recordings series, the sound was transformed into a CD with both the voices and the acoustics sounding fuller and more natural.

While by no means a disaster, the sound quality of the Karajan Pelleas seems closer to the failed early ART efforts than to their more recent successes."
One of Karajan's undisputed triumphs
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 07/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's a pleasure to meet one of the true Great Recordings of the Century. It's also fortunate that the Amazon reviewer so carefuly describes the virtues of this exquisite, in some ways unsurpassed reading of Pelleas et Melisande. Karajan had already displayed his gifts as a Debussy conductor before 1978, but this opera is much harder to bring off than, say, the La Mer or Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Inspired by Wagner, Debussy created a unique Pelleas world that is as distinctive as the Tristan world, though perhaps its total opposite.

Karajan manages to draw us into this singular world with total involvement. The Berlin Phil. plays with more richness and sonority than any of the French orchestras to be heard in Pelleas--let's be frank, there was never a Parisian orchestra, then or now, that could hold a candle to the Berliners. The principal singers--Stilwell, von Stade, and Van Dam--have enough dramatic weight to stand up to Karajan's all-encompassing orchestral sound, which says a lot. One could argue that Van Dam and von Stade are the greatest modern exponents of Golaud and Melisande--the young von Stade's voice is blessedly free of the fast beat that came to mar it later on. This is not to take away from Stilwell's ardent Pelleas; I particularly like the fact that his baritone inclines toward the tenor range.

In sum, if you are a lover of this enigmatic and elusive opera, Karajan's EMI set, always a good-sounding recording but now even better in its latest remastering, is a must-listen."