BBC Music Magazine
‘... John Tomlinson gives Arkel the goodness and dignity Debussy asked for. The music text goes back to the original, before he expanded the orchestral interludes to facilitate scene changes, and is interesting, since in expanding the score he also removed a number of bars which we can now hear. If Pelléas in English appeals, this recording fits the bill.’
Opera in five acts and fifteen scenes
after the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
Adapted by the composer
English translation by Hugh Macdonald
John Tomlinson, bass - Arkel
Sarah Walker, mezzo-soprano - Geneviève
Robert Dean, baritone - Pelléas
Neil Howlett, baritone - Golaud
Eilene Hannan, soprano - Mélisande
Rosanne Brackenridge, soprano - Yniold
Sean Rea, bass - Doctor, Shepherd (off-stage)
Sailors (off-stage), Serving women (mute)
English National Opera Chorus
English National Opera Orchestra
Mark Elder - conductor
Recorded in the London Coliseum
Broadcast on 28 November 1981
The Sunday Telegraph
'From the start, Elder creates an atmosphere of darkness, mystery and impending tragedy. As for the singing, there's John Tomlinson in his prime as King Arkel, commanding and sinister; Robert Dean as Pelléas, a fine piece of operatic portraiture; and Eileen Hannan as the tiresome Mélisande, although she becomes flesh and blood in the love scenes.'
'English National Opera has hosted three productions of Debussy's opera at roughly decade-long intervals. This addition to Chandos' Opera in English archive is taken from the first: the staging by Harry Kupfer, first seen in 1981. The common denominator has been Hugh Macdonald's English translation, an unfussy, lucid rendering of an opera whose vocal lines, so closely wedded to French prosody, present perhaps more of a challenge to translators than any other in the repertoire. The casting shows the depth of ENO 30 years ago, with Eilene Hannan as Mélisande, more knowing, less naive than some portrayals, the baritone Robert Dean a Pelléas with just the right mix of muscularity and lyric grace, Neil Howlett the conflicted Golaud and John Tomlinson the pontificating Arkel... The orchestral sound, with Mark Elder's intelligent pacing of Debussy's score, is vividly presented.'
'Luminous playing from the Orchestra of English National Opera under Mark Elder... so much of the mystery and meaning of this endlessly fascinating work are expressed via Debussy's magical use of 0rchestral colouring - and Elder and his players mine it for significance. But the voices come over well here, too, and their presentation of Hugh Macdonald's sensitive translation demonstrates that Pelléas can indeed work in English... The overall result deserves a high position among recordings of the opera in any language.'