Simon Keenlyside as Pelléas



April 2011

19 April 2011 at 20:30, Barbican Hall, London

15 and 17 April 2011 at 20:00, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris

May 2007

Pelléas et Mélisande, Royal Opera, Covent Garden

"The finest singing of the evening came from Gerald Finley as Golaud, who managed to put across all the inner torment and jealousy of the character by voice alone, which was no mean feat. Angelika Kirchschlager sang sensuously as Melisande but Simon Keenlyside sounded out of sorts as Pelleas – but then can you blame him? Young George Longworth was the best Yniold I've ever seen, and there was reliable support from the veteran bass Robert Lloyd as Arkel. The audience cheered the singers and conductor to the rafters, and booed the production team. A discerning audience if ever I heard one."--Keith McDonnell,, reviewing May 11 performance


"The serious disappointment of the production is considerably lessened by a nearly exemplary musical performance. The Royal Opera could not have fielded a more perfect cast for these performances. Angelika Kirchschlager is a delicate but passionate Mélisande; Gerald Finley an outstanding Golaud, portraying the character’s bewilderment at the unfolding events; and Simon Keenlyside both heroic and lyrical as Pélleas, his impeccable French reminding us too of his exceptional linguistic skills."--Dominic McHugh,


"The crudeness of interpretation vitiates the performances of Angelika Kirchschlager and Simon Keenlyside in the title roles.

"Both are too mature to be playing these children: Keenlyside's attempt at naivety is embarrassing; Kirchschlager is knowing and manipulative. They sing with tremendous accomplishment and polish, but at times attack the music with excessive bravado.

"Mélisande's crooned 'Mes longs cheveux' is a show-stopping aria, while Keenlyside goes way over the top in the Act IV duet and makes it sound like Mascagni. There's no intimacy, no sense of half-heard whispers or unfinished sentences.

"As Golaud, Gerald Finley sings with more restraint, but his psychological torture never emerges as more than vague grumpiness.

"With Robert Lloyd as an Arkel all too long in the tooth and Catherine Wyn-Rogers a fruity Geneviève, only the schoolboy George Longworth as Yniold seemed completely convincing, let alone involving.""--Rupert Christiansen,


"Simon Keenlyside's boyish Pelléas, growing poignantly to self-awareness in the fourth act, and Gerald Finley's wracked, grizzled Golaud are both outstanding. Angelika Kirchschlager's Mélisande is wonderfully sung, though not quite dramatically right - too sophisticated, too knowable, in an opera in which nothing can be taken at face value."--Andrew Clements,


"The cast’s brilliant acting reinforces this notion of people trapped in a preordained catastrophe. At first there is no eye contact, let alone physical contact, between them. It’s as if they are propelled by external force rather than inner urges.

"Even in the famous balcony scene, as he wraps himself in Mélisande’s hair, Simon Keenlyside’s outstanding Pelléas seems more intent on unlocking his own psyche – striking a series of narcissistic ballet poses – than in making love to another person. Keenlyside’s singing is astonishing. In a part often taken by tenors, his baritone soars with glorious clarity and power."--Richard Morrison,


"Pelleas depends more than most operas on a youthful pair of lovers at the centre and Philippe Berthome’s lighting does not flatter Covent Garden’s couple in this respect. But Simon Keenlyside’s Pelleas is sung with imagination and insight, while his acting is the finest on the stage. Angelika Kirchschlager’s Melisande comes over as hard whereas the character must register as vulnerable if the piece is to work."--George Hall,


"Simon Keenlyside is puppyish and energetic in the role, often avoiding vibrato in his voice to suggest youth and innocence."--Warwick Thompson,


"Simon Keenlyside's Pelléas had a haunting, sparky energy, while Angelika Kirchschlager opted for an unsettling, self-contained Mélisande."--Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard, at


"Gerald Finley . . . as the villain Golaud was commanding and clear, as the lovers Angelika Kirchschlager and Simon Keenlyside . . . were haunting, and the child singer George Longwirth was a minor sensation as Yniold. The blind would have loved it."--Richard Godwin,


"I did not for a moment believe in Angelika Kirchschlager as a creature who 'could give God lessons in innocence'. Lovely singer, but neither vulnerable nor touching enough, and too much of this world. Simon Keenlyside was another matter, singing beautifully, ardently, magnificently in the sublimation of his final meeting with Mélisande. Finley was splendid, too, but for me there was too little distinction, physically and vocally, between him and his half-brother Pelléas."--Edward Seckerson,


"The set is absolutely brilliant and contemporary, but that's probably the only thing i can wholly appreciate. I have no reference to know if Simon Keenlyside and Angelika Kirchschlager are brilliant singers, but i will take professionals' advice for it. The truth is, i enjoyed this experience very much."--Life, etc., a photoblog by Karel Polt


"The outstanding performer, at least in vocal terms, is Gerald Finley as Golaud. When he is singing there is no need to look up at the surtitles, as every word is crystal clear, sung with meaning and on a stream of beautiful, liquid tone.

"As his younger brother Pelléas, Simon Keenlyside is less verbally clear but gets beneath the skin of the character to find a strange layer of immaturity and preciousness. (I wondered if he and Finley might have been cast round the other way, with the youthful-sounding Finley as Pelléas and Keenlyside bringing his dramatic insight to the murky depths of Golaud.)"--Richard Fairman,


"The singing, needless to say with this cast, was excellent.  Keenlyside is a natural stage animal, much better in roles where he can "become" character than in Lieder. That's why he was so effective in the Trisha Brown realisation of Winterreise. Because he's sung Pelléas so often, he expressed a lot more about the role than this production on its own terms would suggest. For example, he managed to convey the  strange mix of naivety and sexual awakening, so important in the narrative.  His voice is richer now in its lower register.  Soon, he’ll be a Golaud not a Pelléas."--Anne Ozorio, MusicWeb 


"The Royal Opera's co-production with Salzburg does leave a thing or two to be desired - notably, costume designs that don't induce the good punters of Covent Garden to titter audibly at every character's first entry - but with Simon Rattle in the pit, Angelika Kirchschlager, Simon Keenlyside, Gerald Finlay [sic], Robert Lloyd and Catherine Wyn-Rogers on stage, and as Yniold a young boy named George Longford so musical that he almost stole the whole show, it didn't really matter."--Jessica Duchen


"And Simon Keenlyside is shrewdly cast as Pelleas. He makes ardour second nature, his voice is fine and lively."--Kate Kellaway, The Observer, at


"Nordey's staging offers a series of stunning images that connect only obliquely to Debussy's symbolism, and occasionally work in opposition to it. The flat, white lighting cruelly exposes the singers' real ages, while the sci-fi romper suits that most of them wear cruelly test our suspension of disbelief. Two styles of gesture are employed: hieratic and naturalistic. There is an odd blurring as the singers change from one to the other, which in Keenlyside's Pelléas is semi-permanent. Rarely is he secure on two feet. Often he wavers, like a life-drawing model weary of holding an awkward pose. This is also felt in his singing, which, though artful, is tense. By contrast, Gerald Finley's Golaud is a knotted tumour of misery and anger, whose agony subsumes even his son's terror during his monstrous abuse of Yniold (an excellent George Longworth)."--Anna Picard,


"The principal singers, too, could hardly be bettered, even though none of them is French. Keenlyside’s Pelléas is a classic, triumphing over his ludicrous Liberace-meets-Coco-the-Clown outfit with singing of rapt beauty and the physical grace of a dancer."--Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, at


April 2006

Pelléas et Mélisande, Salzburg


Reviewing an April 8 performance, Larry L. Lash wrote for Opera News of June 2006:  "The production succeeded only in its casting, highlighted by three of the finest lieder singers of our time, assuring performances of great depth and communicative power.  Simon Keenlyside is a simply perfect Pelléas:  passionate, impetuous and guileless, sung with extraordinary nuance.  His declaration of love, in head voice, was barely a whisper; his description of the seaside cave as 'full of blue darkness' conveyed all, when the stage showed nothing."


From review in Spanish by J. A. Vela del Campo for of Pelléas et Mélisande at Salzburg:

"Angelika Kirchschlager se integra bien como Mélisande en este planteamiento teatral y conceptual pero no lo sobrepasa desde el canto, ni desde la evanescencia de la melodía, ni desde la seducción del misterio, ni desde el estilo. El sentimiento de distancia acaba por imponerse. No así en Simon Keenlyside, un Pelléas imponente que reivindica la primacía del canto gracias al humanismo de la voz. El veterano Van Dam realiza su oficio con maestría y escasa emoción. El resto del reparto completa con corrección los cometidos vocales. El público vivió la representación en grado de ensimismamiento. Aplaudió con fuerza. No hubo una sola protesta ni siquiera para los del equipo escénico."


"Simon Keenlyside is a quintessential Pelleas, with just the right mixture of simplicity and eagerness, with an undercurrent of melancholy."--Shirley Apthorp reviewing for a performance at the Salzburg Easter Festival.



October 18, 2003

Debussy: “Pelléas et Mélisande” – Hunt Lieberson, Keenlyside, Finley; Haitink; Boston 2003 by Jungfer_Marianne_Leizmetzerin on Mixcloud

Claude Debussy

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Symphony Hall, Boston
18 October 2003

Mélisande -- Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
Pelléas -- Simon Keenlyside
Golaud -- Gerald Finley
Arkel -- John Tomlinson
Geneviève -- Nathalie Stutzmann
Yniold -- James Danner

Photo: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (1954 – 2006)


October 17, 2003

I went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Pelleas et Melisande last night at Symphony Hall in Boston.  

Bernard Haitink, conductor
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano, (Mélisande)
Simon Keenlyside, baritone (Pelléas)
Nathalie Stutzmann, contralto (Geneviève)
Gerald Finley, baritone (Golaud)
John Tomlinson, bass-baritone (Arkel)
Alfred Walker, bass-baritone (The Doctor; The Shepherd)
James Danner, boy soprano (Yniold)
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
  John Oliver, conductor

Pelléas et Mélisande
(concert performance with supertitles)

All of the singers were very good, and the performance was more interesting that I had expected it to be, but there were some times when my mind wandered.  I liked the sound of Simon Keenlyside’s voice the best, but I was surprised that, for me, Gerald Finley as Golaud was the star of the evening.  When he was singing, I always found the opera riveting.  I don’t know if that is because Maeterlinck and Debussy made Golaud a more interesting character, with the opera reflecting Golaud’s point of view more than that of the other characters, or if it is because of Finely’s ability to create a dramatically convincing character, but I think that it is the latter.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Simon Keenlyside were very effective in their scenes together, especially in Act 4, scene 4.

The orchestra played especially well, and Haitink’s conducting helped to highlight the drama.

Simon Keenlyside appeared more rested than he did at Carnegie Hall a few months ago.  His left hand doesn’t look relaxed to me.  I don’t know whether there is something wrong with it, or if he just doesn’t know what to do with his left hand while he is singing.

The opera received a concert performance, without any attempt at “semi-staging.”  The singers were at the front of the stage on either side of the conductor.  When they sang, they stood behind music stands and could look at the score.  The men wore white tie.  John Tomlinson looks like Boris Godunov with long white hair and a beard.  The boy who sang Yniold wore a blue suit.  Nathalie Stutzmann looked especially elegant in a black pant suit with a white collar, like a shawl collar but about two inches in width.  The pants had wide legs so that the effect was similar to that of a gown.  Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is a relatively slim, good-looking woman.  She wore a white gown and had long, light brown hair.  The chorus did not appear on stage, but sang their brief music from backstage, with the door opened a few inches.

The last baseball game of the play-off series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees took place last night.  I’d guess that ten percent of the people who had bought tickets to
Pelleas stayed home to watch the game on television.  There was one intermission, between acts three and four.  I estimate that at least a third of the audience did not return after the intermission.  The performance ended about 11:20, and I left the hall about 11:30.



About Simon Keenlyside

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