Performances of Claude Debussy’s only opera Pelléas et Mélisande at the Metropolitan Opera have been almost as elusive as the frail, mysterious Mélisande herself. Since its first Met performance on 21 March 1925, just a mere 23 years after its world premiere, the opera has only been performed 114 times to date. That’s a total of 93 years. To put that into context using the ABCs of the opera world, Aïda, La Bohème and Carmen, each reached their 114th performances 21, 12 and 15 years after their first performances at the Met, respectively.
This live broadcast recording from the stage of the Met dates from the very end of 1962, the last of a run of five performances conducted by Ernest Ansermet, of whom the New York Times wrote: "Naturally he was the hero of the evening. ‘‘Pelléas et Mélisande” is a conductor’s opera, and it demands the services of a man who is a precise stylist and a precise technician. Despite its seeming economy of means, “Pelléas et Mélisande” is very difficult to conduct. Textures must be transparent; the score is a cobweb of sound, seldom arising above a mezzoforte. At that, Mr. Ansermet released his forces more than do most conductors, and the opera last night seemed to have a little more red blood in it than usual."
With George London as Golaud and Nicolai Gedda and Anna Moffo in the title roles, this is a classic performance of a ground-breaking opera.