A new incarnation of Pelléas et Mélisande, the only opera ever completed by Claude Debussy, in 1902, is a feast for the eyes—literally. Current-day directors and choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet envisioned the Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet Flanders production as a window into the human soul. “The libretto is so much about vision that we thought to make the story unfold inside an eyeball,” Jalet explains.
The two teamed with performance artist Marina Abramovic for set design, video artist Marco Brambilla for projections, and fashion designer Iris van Herpen for costumes. “When you collaborate with so many, the challenge is to make their work complement—instead of overshadow—each other,” Jalet adds.
Each played a key role in reinterpreting the dark fairy tale as surreal and modern. “It was Marina’s idea to bring the story out of its medieval context and into a science-fiction setting,” Brambilla, who recently directed Kanye West’s Power video, recalls. In addition to designing enormous kinetic sculptures resembling crystals, Abramovic set a 23-foot-high screen in front of a concave mirror to showcase Brambilla’s videoscapes, which artfully manipulate NASA Hubble Space Telescope photography. The result: a fantastical planetarium that symbolizes both the universe and the characters’ subconscious. . . as well as resembling an oversize eye.
Timed to the centennial of the composer’s death, Pelléas et Mélisande opened with performances in Antwerp and Ghent, Belgium, with a three-year touring schedule in the works. It’s worth seeing.