Pelléas et Mélisande (Opera)

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Work data
Original title: Pelléas and Mélisande
Mary Garden as Melisande

Mary Garden as Melisande

Original language: French
Music: Claude Debussy
Libretto : Maurice Maeterlinck
Literary source: Maurice Maeterlinck: Pelléas et Mélisande
Premiere: April 30, 1902
Place of premiere: Opéra-Comique , Salle Favart, Paris
Playing time: about 3 hours
  • Mélisande ( soprano )
  • Geneviève, mother of Golaud and Pelléas ( old )
  • Arkel, King of Allemonde ( bass )
  • Pelléas, Arkel's grandson ( tenor or baritone )
  • Golaud, brother of Pelléas (bass)
  • Yniold, son of Golaud from his first marriage ( boy soprano )
  • A doctor (bass)
  • Servants, beggars (mute)
  • Voices of sailors ( choir )

Pelléas et Mélisande is a French opera in five acts (15 images). The genre of the composer Claude Debussy is "Drame lyrique". The text is an adaptation of the play Pelléas et Mélisande by Maurice Maeterlinck . The opera premiered on April 30, 1902 in Paris in the Opéra-Comique .


first act

Scene 1: Golaud gets lost while hunting in the forest and meets the weeping Mélisande at a well. She is very beautiful and just as shy, does not allow any contact and only indicates the reason for her behavior. Accordingly, after a painful experience, she escaped from a man who gave her a crown that fell into the well. She doesn't want the crown back. Golaud persuades her to come with him.

Scene 2: Geneviève, the mother of Golaud and Pelléas, reads to Arkel, her father and King of Allemonde, a letter that Golaud wrote to his half-brother Pelléas. He is supposed to intercede with King Arkel so that Golaud can return home with his second wife Mélisande, whom he married six months ago. Arkel had originally chosen another wife to be Golaud's wife, but is in favor of Golaud's new election and his return. Pelléas joins them. At the same time he received a second letter from a dying friend who calls him over, which Arkel speaks out against.

Scene 3: Geneviève introduces Mélisande to her new surroundings. Mélisande fears the gloom of the castle and the nearby park. Voices can be heard from a ship leaving the port. Mélisande can tell by the sails that it is the ship that brought her. Pelléas meets the two. When he tries to support Mélisande's arm to keep her from falling on the steep path, she allows contact.

Second act

Pelléas leads Mélisande to the fountain of the blind, the water of which is said to restore sight. Mélisande plays with the ring Golaud gave her and does not listen to Pelléas' half-hearted warnings. She drops Golaud's ring into the well. In the same second Golaud falls from his horse in another place and injures himself. He later notices the missing ring on Mélisande's hand, and she pretends to have lost it in a grotto. Golaud sends her off to find him and orders Pelléas to go with her.

In the dark grotto, Pelléas and Mélisande meet three impoverished figures, are confronted with disease and famine, and flee.

Third act

Mélisande combs her long golden hair and sings a little song. This summons Pelléas, who swarms himself with her hair. Golaud joins them and criticizes their behavior as childish. He threatens Pelléas and finally forbids him to have any further contact with Mélisande, as this could damage her pregnancy. He lets his son Yniold watch them through the window. When he asked eagerly what he could see, Yniold could not answer him: Pelléas and Mélisande sat opposite each other in silence.

Fourth act

Pelléas asks Mélisande to take one last farewell to the park with him. Arkel later tries to comfort her about Pelléas' absence. Golaud openly demonstrates his jealousy by dragging Mélisande by her hair. In the park, Yniold is alone by the fountain. As he does every day, he hears the sounds of the sheep returning home. The shepherd prevents them from going to the stable, they should go to the slaughterhouse. The boy feels a sense of death. Pelléas says goodbye to Mélisande. Their deep affection for one another is only hinted at in words. Golaud kills Pelléas and Mélisande flees.

Fifth act

Mélisande is dying after having a daughter and having a fever. After she wakes up, Golaud tries to justify herself and asks her forgiveness. He then urges her to tell the truth in the face of death, whether she loved Pelléas. She affirms, but denies, having had a sexual relationship with him. Golaud doesn't want to believe her. After seeing her daughter for the first time, Mélisande dies. Arkel posthumously describes Mélisande as a delicate, enigmatic woman and says that the child should take her place.


Pelléas und Mélisande is an opera composed through nudes. Debussy initially set the text he himself arranged to music without orchestral interludes between the individual scenes, but added these gradually at the request of the artistic director of the Paris Opera for practical reasons (bridging the necessary renovation breaks) and expanded them in the course of the premiere series.

Until shortly before his death, Debussy revised the score over and over again. The instrumentation of the “final version” differs considerably from the version of the world premiere.

Debussy dispensed with arias and larger solo scenes, which gives the setting of the text a realistic character. Debussy described the design of the singing roles in Figaro as follows: “The designers of this drama want to sing of course - and not in an arbitrary manner of expression that comes from outdated traditions. I wanted the action never to stand still, but to go on uninterrupted. [...] "

For the genesis and the processes surrounding the premiere see under Claude Debussy .


The production by Eva-Maria Höckmayr in the Aachen Theater in the 2009/2010 season received the Götz-Friedrich-Prize for directing.


Web links

Commons : Pelléas et Mélisande  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Julius Kapp : "Claude Debussy and his" Pelleas "" in: Pelleas and Melisande , Ahn and Simrock, Berlin, Wiesbaden 1949, p. 13.