Stéphane Degout, Hélène Lucas et Ruben Lifschitz
Maurice Maeterlinck, Pelléas et Mélisande
The poems of Verlaine set to music by Debussy were among the first works they explored together. From the Lyon Conservatoire to Royaumont Abbey, Stéphane Degout gave his first recitals, accompanied on the piano by Hélène Lucas. However, in 1999, after his acclaimed debut as Papageno at the Festival of Aix-en-Provence, the international operatic world opened its doors to him and kept him away from the lied and the mélodie for a while. But he missed the repertoire, and one January day he wrote to Hélène Lucas and Ruben Lifschitz to tell them of his wish to start giving recitals again. The trio was re-formed. Their shared endeavour began once more. In February 2004 they were invited to Lincoln Center in New York for the first time. Then came the Berlin Philharmonie, La Monnaie in Brussels, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
Today Stéphane Degout continues to insist on the importance of the recital in his life as a singer. He describes it as getting back to basics, at once an artistic and a technical necessity.
Going from one operatic production to another, the singer is constantly faced with new conductors, new directors, new partners. He or she can sometimes feel a little lost. The song repertoire is the calm after the storm. Here there are no effects or artifices; only the text and the music remain. Only the interpreter and the absolute truth of his or her voice. But anyone who has studied poetry closely knows just how dangerous it can be to venture alone on this introspective path. So it is easy to imagine the importance for Stéphane Degout of the companionship which has bound him to Hélène Lucas and Ruben Lifschitz for more than fifteen years now. Time and practice have enabled them to achieve a relationship of genuine intimacy.
The kind of intimacy that allows them to breathe together. Guided by Ruben Lifschitz, Stéphane Degout and Hélène Lucas have listened to Debussy, Duparc, Ravel. But, perhaps even more important, they have read Verlaine, Baudelaire, Renard. For Ruben Lifschitz was a
pupil of Alfred Cortot, and he likes to quote his teacher: ‘Leave the music alone!’ In his view, one must serve the work above all else. And the first step in that process is to restore the text to its central position. Next, one must examine the accompaniment, taking account of the myriad details that go to make it up, like the casket which sheds a special light on the jewel of the poem. When this is done, the music makes it possible to hear what is not written.
Stéphane Degout says he counts Ruben Lifschitz among the great directors he has met, on a par with Patrice Chéreau, Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann, Robert Wilson or Klaus Michael Grüber. For it was thanks to Lifschitz that he realised that the recital is not a pure vocal exercise but above all an inner journey, an essential journey. Here one must not impersonate a character; one must be. And there lies scope for the dizzying feeling of abandoning oneself, of experiencing one’s own interiority. At his side is Hélène Lucas to accompany him. She is with him like those confidants in tragedy whose mere presence allows the word to reveal itself. And one thinks of the words the great French actor Louis Jouvet addressed to himself in Écoute mon ami, reminding us that ‘the key to practising this profession properly lies in self-renunciation to achieve self-advancement’.
Pelléas et Mélisande
composed by Claude Debussy
Robert Wilson's universe fits totally Debussy's timeless and enigmatic Pelleas. Philippe Jordan conducts a very interior, even mysterious interpretation and Stephane Degout is excellent in Pelleas' role.