Well, the miracle of Debussy. I've started to feel that Pelleas et Melisande is the most rewarding of all operas: every performance I've attended has been like hearing it for the first time because there's something special to notice on each occasion. The Royal Opera's co-production with Salzburg does leave a thing or two to be desired - notably, costume designs that don't induce the good punters of Covent Garden to titter audibly at every character's first entry - but with Simon Rattle in the pit, Angelika Kirchschlager, Simon Keenlyside, Gerald Finlay, Robert Lloyd and Catherine Wyn-Rogers on stage, and as Yniold a young boy named George Longworth so musical that he almost stole the whole show, it didn't really matter.
Angelika looks fabulous in her now famous Red Dress, but the others, in huge, white, padded, puffed and pointed clown suits (without red noses) seem to have walked straight out of a cross between Star Trek and Dallas, and the way that stagehands push the foldaway sets round and round in circles during the first half's interludes, with associated squeaks, could have been usefully cut back. There wasn't much wrong with the actual direction - the characters emerged as well-drawn and believable - but the design...oh well.
Rattle controlled the dramatic pace marvellously and the orchestra sounded super - detailed, transparent and balanced extremely well with the singers. Hard to believe it was the same band that played that mismanaged, lumpen Mayerling the other week (conducted by, oh dear, um, one Mr Wordsworth).
Pelleas remains a conundrum of an opera because - well, what do you do with it? Nothing kills it stone-cold dead as much as naturalism. It's a Symbolist work, a conceptual piece where nothing can be taken at face value. So it begs a conceptual rendition. At least, one would think so. The music is what really counts, though; starship outfits or none, I still went home floating.