For the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute’s spring production, Nic Muni is returning to a source that worked well for the Fletcher Fellows and him two years ago: British director Peter Brook.
In 2016, Muni directed “La tragédie de Carmen” at UNC School of the Arts, an adaptation by Brook of Bizet’s “Carmen.” It won a first place award from the National Opera Association.
Next week, Muni will present “Impressions de Pelléas,” using new orchestration and Brook’s adaptation of Debussy’s original opera, “Pelléas et Mélisande.”
In his third year as artistic director of the Fletcher Institute, UNCSA’s post-graduate opera program, Muni was recently appointed artistic director of More Than Musical, Ltd, a new opera company in Hong Kong.
Brook’s adaptations take two- or three-hour operas and reduce them to “chamber” versions.
In 1992, Brook shortened the five-act “Pelléas et Mélisande” to 100 minutes with no intermission, cut the full orchestra down to just two pianos, and re-titled the work.
UNCSA has added its own touches to Brook’s take on the opera. The two pianos will be bolstered by flute, cello and percussion — all sitting on stage during the show. The numerous locations called for in the script will all be represented in a single environment. Lighting will be used to break up that space into the various scenes.
“The time setting we have chosen is a post-apocalyptic dystopia,” Muni said. “It’s slightly futuristic but with a primitive look — a combination of ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Lord of the Rings.’”
Muni described “Impressions de Pelléas” as a “sung play.” “It’s not as much an opera as a play with music, so it stretches our singers in terms of their acting ability.”
The opera has three central characters: Prince Golaud; his half-brother Pelléas; and Mélisande, a mysterious woman with an unknown past.
“Mélisande is as magnetic as she is enigmatic,” said Eliza Mandzik. “Golaud encounters her sobbing in the forest, is instantly captivated by her, and brings her back to the kingdom of Allemonde as his bride.”
Mandzik will share the role of Mélisande with Claire Pegram.
The two sopranos played Cinderella’s stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, respectively, in the Fletcher Opera’s production of “La Cenerentolla” in the fall. They wore masks and humorous costumes and were virtually unrecognizable. In the leading role of Mélisande, they will be more front and center.
As Mélisande settles into her new home, she “forges a particularly powerful connection with Golaud’s half-brother Pelléas,” which fills Golaud with uncontrollable jealousy and paranoia.
“Toward the end of opera, in a moment of unleashed passion, Golaud kills his brother when he discovers him alone with Mélisande,” Muni said. “However, it is not at all clear in the opera — whether Pelléas and Mélisande are guilty of infidelity.”
This type of ambiguity is pervasive in “Impressions de Pelléas.”
“Mélisande is a tangle of contradictions,” Mandzik said. “She is a mysterious being who hungrily takes in every detail while revealing nothing about herself.”
“She draws people in to her with an allure that verges on supernatural, yet this appeal seems entirely unconscious on her part. She is straightforward with her words, but the subtext belying them is often obscured.”
The singers have to intimately understand their paradoxical characters in order to portray to the audience what Mandzik calls “the carefully-constructed ambiguity that makes the story so electrifying.”
“The music is very sophisticated, the characters are all deeply nuanced, and the piece demands a thoughtful interpretation in order for the full impact of the story to be felt.
“We spent a great deal of time discussing the natures and motivations of the characters, and even performed sections of the original Maeterlinck play last fall in preparation.”
Mandzik describes the “Impressions de Pelléas” production as “exceedingly ambitious.”
“Debussy’s masterwork is the sort of piece where one could delve into it for a decade and still be making discoveries.”
In addition to Mandzik and Pegram, the “Impressions de Pelléas” cast features Andrew Rene and Cameron Jackson as Golaud; Jacob Wright and James Smidt as Pelléas; Logan Trotter and Peyton Marion as Yniold; Karl Buttermann as Arkel; and Kathleen Felty as Genevieve.
Wright was the prince in UNCSA’s “La Cenerentola” and Frederic in Piedmont Opera’s recent production of “Pirates of Penzance.” Felty sang the title role in “La Cenerentola.”
The design crew from the School of Design and Production includes Jacob Harbeck, scenic design; Dominic DeSalvio, lighting; Eileen Chaffer, costumes; and Allyson Kochanek, wig and makeup. Jonathan Bach serves as the production stage manager.