About opera

Pelleas and Melisande: Opera in five acts by Claude Debussy

Pelléas and Mélisande is an opera in five acts with music by Claude Debussy. The French libretto was adapted from a drama by Maurice Maeterlinck, a Belgian poet who is famous for his use of symbolism. It premiered at the Salle Favart in Paris by the Opéra-Comique on 30 April 1902; Jean Périer was Pelléas and Mary Garden was Mélisande, conducted by André Messager, who was instrumental in getting the Opéra-Comique to stage the work.

When Debussy was a student in Conservatoire de Paris, he admired Richard Wagner, and he was influenced by the Wagner’s opera, Tristan and Isolde. Then, Debussy parts from Wagner’s influence, and builds his original music technique. Entering the 20th century, Debussy composed this opera which is at the opposite end of the scale to Tristan and Isolde. He created a new opera world.

The plot concerns a love triangle. In legendary times in the imaginary kingdom of Allemonde Prince Golaud finds Mélisande, a mysterious young woman, lost in a forest. He marries her and brings her back to the castle of his grandfather, King Arkel who has recommended Golaud marry another woman. Here Mélisande becomes increasingly attached to Golaud's younger half-brother Pelléas, arousing Golaud's jealousy. Golaud warns Pelleas telling him that Melisande is pregnant. Pelléas decides to leave the castle but arranges to meet Mélisande one last time and the two finally confess their love for one another. Golaud, who has been eavesdropping, rushes out and stabs Pelleas to death. Mélisande is also wounded and Golaud, overcome with guilt, claims he has killed for no reason. Mélisande dies shortly after, having given birth to a daughter, with Golaud still begging her to tell him “the truth.”

There are not any arias in this opera, but the best part of this opera is the whole atmosphere. The scene in which Mélisande combs her beautiful long hair by the window of the tower is one of the most famous scenes on this opera.

Despite its initial controversy, Pelléas and Mélisande is considered a landmark in 20th-century music and remained regularly staged and recorded throughout the 20th- and into the 21st-century.


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