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Pelléas et Mélisande

Approximate running time


The intriguing work Pelléas et Mélisande from the French composer Claude Debussy is a tragic opera of heartfelt emotional power and depth. Featuring a libretto adapted from Maurice Maeterlinck's play of the same name, it had its première at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1902. It has since become one of the most respected operatic works in history. It is the only opera that Debussy ever completed and has retained its fascination to all lovers of classical performance ever since. The assortment of different world-wide productions and recordings are evidence of the opera's continued popularity.


Concerning a love triangle of romantic intensity, Pelléas et Mélisande taps into fundamental human concerns of love, power and devotion. Set in a legendary land of wonder and myth, the plot deals with the concerns of the two title characters and the aggressively jealous Prince Golaud. The mystical elements of the plot form a profound sense of heightened realism that gives the piece a marvellous transporting effect.

Act 1

The widowed Price Golaud finds the frightened girl Mélisande while lost in a forest. Mainly through fear she consents to follow him. Six months later in the castle of Golaud's father King Arkel, the King's other son Pelléas reads out the letter of matrimony that Golaud has sent. The king agrees to the marriage and the couple soon appear at the castle.

Act 2

Pelléas and Mélisande become increasingly attracted to each other. At a forest well they realise that they are in love. In a significant scene, she loses her wedding ring in the well. Golaud becomes increasingly suspicious of the two and sets about questioning the young lovers. The prince angrily warns Pelléas that Mélisande is pregnant with his child. He then interrogates the young man before turning his questions to his own son from a previous marriage, little Yniold. The child can revel nothing, and his father is left in moody contemplation.

Act 3

Pelléas tells Mélisande of his intention to leave the castle, finding the romantic entanglements too difficult. They agree to one final tryst. This is broken up by an enraged Golaus who witnesses them from the shadows. He storms in on the two and strikes Pelléas down with his sword. The pregnant Mélisande gives birth to her and Golaus's baby. The tragic opera draws to a final close with a dying Mélisande adamant of her love for Pelléas and a grief stricken Golaus dejected and alone.


Arkel, King of Allemonde, bass
Geneviève, mother of Golaud and Pelléas, contralto
Golaud, grandson of Arkel, baritone
Pelléas, grandson of Arkel, tenor
Mélisande, lover of Pelléas, soprano
Yniold, the young son of Golaud, soprano

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