Opera Scotland

Pelléas et Mélisande Pelléas and Mélisande

Music
Claude Debussy (born St Germain-en-Laye, 22 August 1862; died Paris, 25 March 1918)

Text
Adaptation of play by Maeterlinck.

Source
Play (1892) by Maurice Maeterlinck (Belgian 1862-1949).

Premières
First performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 30 April 1902.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 21 May 1909.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 21 November 1913.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 6 June 1962.

Background
Maeterlinck was one of the leading writers of the Symbolist movement which dominated modern literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His Pelléas and similar works are characterised by a strange, doom-laden atmosphere of mystery and romance, usually in a form of half-imagined medieval settings. The resulting opera from Debussy can be supremely haunting and compelling. Little is ever explained. Full of odd arrivals and departures, and constant suggestions of sickness and decay, the music has a kind of hypnotic beauty, and builds up a dramatic punch. It is the only opera Debussy completed, although he started several, and the orchestral effects are glorious.

Characters
Golaud (baritone)
Mélisande (soprano)
Geneviève, mother of Golaud and Pelléas (mezzo-soprano)
Arkel, King of Allemonde, grandfather of Golaud and Pelléas (bass)
Pelléas, Golaud’s half-brother (tenor or high baritone)
Yniold, son of Golaud (treble or soprano)
A Doctor (bass)

Plot Summary
Golaud meets and marries Mélisande, a strange, very quiet and withdrawn girl he has found weeping in the forest. He writes to advise his half-brother of the news, and their mother and grandfather accept it. Pelléas wishes to visit an old friend who is ill, but is prevented by Arkel, on the grounds that his own father is ill, and he should stay at home. Some time later, Mélisande is now resident in the castle, and she spends time with Pelléas in the castle grounds. She takes off her wedding ring to play with it, but immediately loses it down a well. Golaud, injured in a riding accident and being nursed by Mélisande, notices the ring is missing and sends her to look for it on the shore, not knowing that she has lied to him about its true location. Golaud becomes suspicious of his brother when he comes on Pelléas fondling Mélisande’s long, luxuriant hair. During a tour of the stagnant castle vaults he warns Pelléas to leave his wife alone. His jealousy is increased, however, when he and his young son Yniold see a further meeting between the other two, though they are only sitting together. Pelléas, on the advice of his father, decides to go away. As he meets Mélisande to say farewell, Golaud finds them and kills his brother. In the final scene, Mélisande has given birth, but she is clearly dying. Golaud is still consumed by jealousy, and never discovers the true nature of the relationship between Pelléas and Mélisande.

The Cast

Arkel
 King of Allemonde, grandfather of Golaud and Pelléas
Doctor
 
Geneviève
 mother of Golaud and Pelléas
Golaud
 
Mélisande
 
Pelléas
 Golaud’s half-brother
Shepherd
 
Yniold
 son of Golaud

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