Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Pelleas premonitions

Attention everyone who wants to go to Glyndebourne: there are tickets =still available for Pelleas et Melisande. It's an extraordinary production with world-class singing by John Tomlinson et al and the LPO at its absolute finest under Louis Langree. And you can picnic in the interval. Book NOW - more info on the website, link on the sidebar.

What I want to know is why there are tickets. Usually you can get into Glyndebourne for neither love nor money. (Well, sometimes love, but not always - Tristan was chockablock last year and I only saw the dress rehearsal.) This year, Carmen and The Magic Flute are sold out. But not the Debussy. Nor, I believe, Jenufa or Rodelinda.

Pelleas is not easy listening. It's unbelievably beautiful, detailed, hypnotic, magical, but it's not strong on The Big Tune. It doesn't get played on Classic FM. Pelleas is like no other opera on earth, despite a few wisps of Tristan and Parsifal creeping in on occasion. It's haut-Symbolism, in which every image represents a range of unspoken allusions. That is partly why I love it so much: every time you hear it you can hear something new, something you didn't quite get a handle on before. Could it be that it is entirely lost on 85 per cent of Glyndebourne-goers?

In our consumer age, it often seems to me that people like to sit in an opera house and consume the opera. They pay their money and they take in the returns. Heaven forfend that they should do any spadework to make sure they get the most out of what they see. Why should anyone have to make an effort after paying £100 for a ticket? "I don't think the producer has read the synopsis," was one haughty comment I heard on the way out of the show the other day (Vick's circular flashback trick works wonders on Pelleas, but you can only see that if you have heard the word Symbolism before). I remember going round a spectacular Art Nouveau exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum a few years ago and hearing a woman complaining to her companion about the use of the word 'sensibility' in one of the commentaries on the wall. She didn't know what it meant - worse, she didn't see why she should.

With music education stripped to bare minimum, hundreds of TV channels offering nothing worth watching and, hovering over everything like great vultures, the mind-numbing curses of the Cool and the Correct, a masterpiece like Pelleas doesn't stand much chance. Cultural 'Sensibility' - that word one shouldn't use because someone mightn't know its meaning - is under a general anaesthetic. If I have the chance to see this production of Pelleas again, I shall do so - because God alone knows when there will be another opportunity. Are operas like this going to vanish from our stages because of audience indolence?