Opera : Pelléas et Mélisande

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Debussy's ground-breaking symbolist opera

Written in 1893-1895 — the same period that saw the genesis of the String Quartet and Afternoon of a Faun — and orchestrated in a few months before the premier in 1902, Pelléas was Debussy’s only completed opera. Based on a symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck, the opera was so remarkably original that it was booed at its first performances at Paris’s Opera Comique, but it soon found an audience that cherished it, and it became a staple of the repertoire. Lawrence Gilman wrote, “Pelléas et Mélisande exhibited not simply a new manner of writing opera, but a new kind of music—a new way of evolving and combining tones, a new order of harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic structure. The style of it was absolutely new and absolutely distinctive: The thing had never been done before. Its beauty is . . . shot through with mystery and strangeness, baffling, incalculable.” (Faun, pgs  117-122, 155-161, 197-220)

To listen to the music,
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Music titles are linked to YouTube videos selected for quality of performance and other criteria. 


Page numbers refer to the book, "Afternoon of a Faun," where these works are discussed.

Maurice Maeterlinck, playwright

Pelléas et Mélisande  (complete on one video)

A splendid 2012 production by the Paris Opera, with Stéphane Degout (Pelléas), Elena Tsallagova (Mélisande), Anne Sofie von Otter (Geneviève), and Vincent le Texier (Golaud). Paris Opera and Chorus conducted by Phillippe Jordan; Robert Wilson was director and designer. In French, with English subtitles.

Mary Garden, the first Mélisande