Subtle and modern opera fairy tale

Pelléas et Mélisande

Claude Debussy, De Nationale Opera

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This work is regarded as an absolute apex in opera history. Pelléas et Mélisande, with its dreamy, ominous atmosphere, is the only opera Claude Debussy finished. The music reflects the strongly visual and sensitive language of Maurice Maeterlinck’s libretto, which tells of the jaundiced triangular relationship between the half-brothers Golaud and Pelléas and the girl Mélisande. Like in many fairy tales, things do not end well. The music is performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The title roles are performed by the young star singers Paul Appleby and Elena Tsallagova. It is directed by the Frenchman Olivier Py, whose previous performance at the Holland Festival was Benjamin Britten’s musical drama Curlew River.

background information


Golaud, grandson of King Arkel of Allemonde loses his way in the woods while hunting. By a spring he meets a fearful, crying girl, Mélisande. 

What has happened to her ‒ other than her crown having fallen in the water ‒ is not entirely clear. Golaud takes her home. Two months later, in a letter to his half brother Pelléas, he says that he is married to Mélisande. Their mother Geneviève reads the letter out to Arkel, who is more or less blind. As a sign of consent to the marriage Pelléas will light a lamp on a tower of the castle. When Mélisande arrives, Pelléas and his sister-in-law feel a strong sympathy for one another. Pelléas’ father is seriously ill and lies in a chamber in the castle.


Pelléas and Mélisande have a conversation by a spring in the park. Mélisande plays with her wedding ring and, to her horror, drops it in the water. After a fall from his horse the wounded Golaud is cared for by Mélisande. He notices that she is not wearing her wedding ring. She tells him she lost it in a cave on the coast. Golaud orders her to search for the ring there with Pelléas. Of course they both know that they won’t find the ring in the cave.


Mélisande is combing her long hair at an open window, allowing her hair to hang down outside. Pelléas kisses her locks, and Golaud sees. He warns them to stop their games. Golaud has Pelléas and Mélisande spied on by his young son Yniold. The boy tells him that they stand together in the chamber, looking at the lamp.


Pelléas’ father suspects that his son is in danger and tells him to go on a journey. During the emotional farewell from Mélisande, Golaud spies on them and then kills Pelléas in a surge of envy. Mélisande flees.


Mélisande has had a daughter and is now dying. Golaud interrogates her about her relationship with Pelléas. Mélisande doesn’t know that Pelléas is dead. She tells him that their interactions were innocent, loses consciousness and dies.




Dutch National Opera (DNO) is known for its diverse programming of both classic and modern operas and for the high quality of all its performances. Through innovative productions, works especially composed for the Dutch 

National Opera and a fresh take on familiar repertoire, this wonderful form of art is kept alive and given a place in the future. With Director Pierre Audi, the Dutch National Opera has a huge reputation in the international world of opera and all new productions are eagerly anticipated. In 2013, DNO won the international Opera Award for the best production of the year.


Stéphane Denève leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He graduated from the Paris Conservatory and worked early in his career with conductors such as Georg Solti, Georges Prêtre and Seiji Ozawa. Recently Stéphane Denève was appointed Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony, succeeding David Robertson in 2019/2020. He has conducted opera productions at the Royal Opera, the Opéra national de Paris, De Munt in Brussels, the Glyndebourne Festival, la Scala in Milan and De Nationale Opera (L'amour des trois oranges, Dialogues des Carmélites).


Claude Debussy (1862-1918) is seen as the great innovator in classical music. His best known composition is probably Clair de Lune from the Suite bergamasque. Between 1873 and 1886, Debussy studied the piano under Antoine François Marmontel and theory under Albert Lavignac. He then studied harmony under Émile Duran and for a short time improvisation with Auguste Franck. In 1879 Debussy came into contact with Madame Marie-Blanche Vasnier. Her cultural circle was very important for the composer. Debussy dedicated several of his early songs to her. The same year that he met Vasnier, Debussy travelled via Florence and Venice to Moscow, accompanying Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky’s guardian. In 1884 Debussy was awarded the Prix de Rome for his cantata L’enfant prodigue. Ten years later his orchestral work Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune had its premiere. This was seen as one of the composer’s masterpieces. Another famous work by the Frenchman is the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1902). This work, based on a play by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, constituted a milestone in the development of French music. It is the only opera he ever wrote.



Claude Debussy
Maurice Maeterlinck
Stéphane Denève
Olivier Py
set, costumes
Pierre-André Weitz
Bertrand Killy
assistant conductor
Aldert Vermeulen
assistant director
Clément Debras, Meisje Hummel, Barbara Poll
assistent set
Pierre Lebon
assistent costumes
Mathieu Crescence
Ernst Munneke, Jan-Paul Grijpink,
language coach
Nathalie Dang
production leader
Liesbeth Kruyt
show leader
Merel Francissen
with support from
Brook Foundation
rehearsal coordinator
Ruud Burgering
Durand Editions Musicales
Pelléas, petit-fils d’Arkel
Paul Appleby
Golaud, petit-fils d’Arkel
Brian Mulligan
Arkel, roi d’Allemonde
Peter Rose
Le Petit Yniold
Tölzer Knabenchor
a doctor
Elena Tsallagova
Geneviève, mère de Pelléas et Golaud
Katia Ledoux
a shepherd
Frederik Bergman
Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest
Koor van De Nationale Opera
rehearsal leader
Ching-Lien Wu
De Nationale Opera
with support from

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