He marries her, but it’s obvious she’s falling for his younger brother.
And he notices. Jealousy eventually gets the best of him, along with the rage that goes with it. He kills his younger brother, then confronts her.
Were they having an affair? If they weren’t, can he live with the fact that he’s taken his brother’s life?
And even if they were, can he live with himself?
This story has played out so many times in history. The characters and situations change, but the elements are still there: love, trust, jealousy, betrayal, consequences.
Pelleas’ name is on the story, but his older brother Golaud is the character in control. And the music is what makes their story different, because Claude Debussy wrote it.
So, the LSU Opera’s audiences will experience something unique when it opens Impressions de Pelleas Friday, April 19, in the Claude L. Shaver Theatre. A second performance will follow on Sunday, April 21.
And though “unique” is one of those words reserved for things that truly are different, Dugg McDonough sees it as the perfect description of Peter Brooks’ adaptation of Debussy’s only complete opera.
“Debussy’s music is unique, and one of the highlights for our audiences is Michael Borowitz’s piano interludes between scenes,” McDonough said.
McDonough is the LSU Opera’s artistic director, and director of this production. Borowitz is an assistant professor and opera coach at LSU and musical director of this show.
And Debussy was a French composer known for his impressionistic music. He is one of two composers most often associated with this movement in classical music. The other is Maurice Ravel.
Those who aren’t instantly familiar with Debussy’s name surely will recognize some of his pieces, especially what might be considered his most popular piece, “Clair de Lune.”
Still don’t think you know it? Well, think back to the final scene of the 2001 version of the film Ocean’s Eleven. All the characters are gathered around the Bellagio hotel’s fountain, and a song begins playing, taking over the scene, openly expressing all the things the characters can’t.
The triumph of the hotel heist, the sadness of it all coming to an end. It’s all there in that one song, Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”
Of course, Debussy didn’t write the song for the film. He died in 1918, but his music, as is the case with that of so many classical composers, has been used for varied settings.
And in Impressions de Pelleas, it tells playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s story of a love triangle, where two brothers love the same woman.
Debussy titled his opera Pelleas et Melisande. Melisande, of course, is the name of Prince Golaud’s wife, and Golaud is Pelleas’ older brother.
Maeterlincki’s play, meantime, was symbolist in style, meaning the characters were more important that the drama. Their expressions, what they were thinking, who they were — all of this took precedence over action.
“And this was one of those times where the joining of the music and writing were perfect,” McDonough said.
The LSU Opera is performing Impressions de Pelleas, director Peter Brook’s 1992 condensed version of Debussy’s opera. Then again, condensed really isn’t the correct description for Brook’s work.
Brook’s version keeps all of the characters and essential elements, eliminating the extraneous. The LSU Opera performed Brooks’ Bizet adaptation, The Tragedy of Carmen, in the fall of 2012.
“And staging a Brook opera is as involved as staging our big operas,” McDonough said. “He packs so much in a shorter amount of time. And it gives our students a chance to perform in a full opera instead of excerpts from shows. This is one of the things we wanted to do.”
Impressions de Pelleas is called a chamber opera, meaning that it not only is smaller but performed only with piano accompaniment.
Debussy composed for orchestras, but his best known pieces were composed for piano. This is why Borowitz’s interludes promise to be as rich in content as the scenes.
“We also have a surprise for our audiences,” McDonough said. “The singer who was to play Golaud is no longer with our program, so we asked Dennis Jesse to step in and do it.”
Jesse is an associate professor of voice at LSU and has performed in opera productions throughout the country.
“We needed a baritone for this part,” McDonough continued. “Our productions usually have all-student casts, but Dennis has taken time out of his busy schedule and is doing the part for us. And he’s great. He’s not intimidating, so the students work well with him. And in the end, our audiences not only get to see a wonderful student cast, they get to hear a world-class voice singing with them.”
And audiences get to watch as Pelleas’ story unfolds with familiar themes made unique by Debussy’s music.
CAST: Ben Klaus, Pelleas; Richard G. Leonberger, Pelleas; Ariana Harris, Melisande; Lauren Cook, Melisande; Dennis Jesse, Golaud; Jess Koehn, Arkel; Alexandra Hollerman, Genevieve; Lindsay Roy, Genevieve; Jessica Laliberte, Yniold; Yen Lin Chin, Yniold.
ARTISTIC STAFF: Dugg McDonough, director; Michael Borowtiz, musical director.