Pelléas et Mélisande (‘Pelléas and Mélisande’)
- Richard Langham Smith
(‘Pelléas and Mélisande’)
Opera in five acts by Claude Debussy after Maurice Maeterlinck’s play; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), 30 April 1902.
Maeterlinck established his reputation as a leading exponent of symbolist theatre in the early 1890s; his launch on to the Paris literary scene came with his play La princesse Maleine (1890). Debussy had considered setting this play, the first in a series of symbolist works set loosely in medieval times and praised by Le Figaro as ‘superior in beauty to what is most beautiful in Shakespeare’.
Published in May 1892, Maeterlinck’s Pelléas was first performed at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens on 17 May 1893. Debussy attended the single matinée but had already read the work, as he recounted in a short article, ‘Pourquoi j’ai écrit Pelléas’, in 1902. In this article he also explained his attraction to the play, revealing his confirmed allegiance to the tenets of symbolism:...