Tuesday, June 17, 2014

First-Person: Soprano Miriam Khalil inside Against the Grain's Pélleas et Mélisande

The New Role, The New Score, And all of it Outside
by Miriam Khalil

I’m excited to be making my role debut of Mélisande in Debussy’s incredible opera Pelléas et Mélisande. Learning Mélisande was like navigating through a complicated maze. The deeper into the maze, the more mesmerized and dizzy I became. At first I thought that it was the music causing this entwining but eventually I realized that not only is the music as elusive as water, but so is her character. She is pure and ever changing, innocent but also very complicated. She knows things that she shouldn’t. She has lived both one life and also one hundred lives. She makes decisions that she knows will lead to her undoing and can’t stop herself from making them because ultimately those same decisions are what will bring her closer to Pelléas. 

Playing Mélisande is difficult in a sense because it has to come from a most honest and transparent place. It is the only way that it will feel right and as a result, I’m finding that it will never feel safe or easy. In certain scenes Mélisande seems to not even be in the same conversation as the people she is speaking with. She answers questions that have not been asked and changes the subject when the questions are too intimate or revealing. She never answers who she is or where she came from. We only know how she truly feels when she finally professes her love to Pelléas at the end.  It’s a turn away from her constant silence and sadness, which follows her throughout the opera.  She finally finds joy in Pelléas , someone who is nothing like her but in actuality, he is the mirror to her soul.  Without knowing it, his words and melodies spill out all that she is feeling. He speaks words and emotion which mirror what she feels in her darkest places which she has kept secret through her silence.

Then, one day, all of a sudden the music started to hit me in waves. 

This score is difficult!  I started working on Mélisande in January and took a break to sing Susanna in Victoria BC.  I came back to it in May. When I started working on it again, it seemed as though I had never looked at it before. Then, one day, all of a sudden the music started to hit me in waves. The music doesn’t just get stuck in your head rather it takes over your mind and carries you to another place.

I’m fortunate to sing with incredible colleagues. This cast is absolutely fantastic. I have worked with all of the artists before with the exception of Andrea Nuñez, who is our wonderful Yniold.  It has been such an open and collaborative experience. A great exploration of what this opera is and can be. In an ideal world we would work on this opera for months so we could understand and analyze each moment under a microscope. It’s a work that has so many layers that it feels like Pandora’s box. It is unending. 

What has made this production unique is that we will be singing outside, in a courtyard, unamplified. Singing outside gives the singers the opportunity to feel the nature that was written into the score. We’ve discovered that one of the challenges of singing in an outdoor space, although it’s intimate, is staying connected to Julien LeBlanc (our wonderful pianist and guest music director).  Sound is altered by physical body direction, distance from the piano and outdoor noises. However, being outdoors amplifies the silences and challenges us to be more focused and clear in our wants and needs as actors.  

June 19 - 25
Read also: Baritone Étienne Dupuis's insider article on the production

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.