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Dark stage with Golaud stood under light and Melisande in a tower

Pelleas et Melisande

Autumn 2015

Claude Debussy

In a dark castle weighed down by grief, a widower has brought home a mysterious young girl. When an attraction develops between the girl and his brother, the family is shattered. Delicate, erotic, and menacing by turns, this is an opera like no other.
Archive: Autumn 2015

A very intense widower brings home a simple girl, and marries her; when there are signs of her attachment to his young half-brother, he is violently jealous. But this is one of those dramas where what is unsaid is as important as what is said – and this is where Debussy’s wonderful score makes its magic.

  • 4 Stars

    Wonderfully done.

    The Guardian

  • A gripping evening in the theatre.

    The Sunday Times

  • 4 Stars

    The instrumentation’s bright variety somehow makes the music more like Debussy, not less. And the lack of fuss in ETO’s show allows audiences to focus on what matters most: the words sung, the thoughts expressed.

    The Times

  • 4 Stars

    Conway directs with expertise: even with its multiple ambiguities, the narrative maintains focus and the characterisations conviction.

    The Stage

  • English Touring Opera has cast its production brilliantly: Jonathan McGovern is an unforgettable Pelléas.


1 More Reviews

  • Dream-like, dark and mysterious. Perfect for Debussy's Pélleas. Bravo to @ETOpera for a great second night to this weekend of opera.


Act I

Scene 1 - Stalking a wounded animal in a forest, Golaud has lost his way.He hears a girl sobbing by a pool in which a crown glimmers. He offers to retrieve it, but she declines. He asks who has hurt her, and she answers "Everyone!" Her name is Mélisande. "Where are you going?" she asks. He answers "I am lost too", and she accompanies him.

Scene 2 - Six months later, Genevieve reads to her father a letter from Golaud, describing his marriage to Mélisande. Inasmuch as he was supposed to marry a princess of another country, thus ending a long war, Golaud fears that his grandfather will not welcome his new bride. He writes that if he does not see from his ship a light in the castle, he will sail on and never return. Arkel views the marriage as simple fate, which he will not resist. Pelléas's father, Genevieve's second husband, is very ill. On this account, Arkel tells his grandson to remain at home until he recovers, or at least until Golaud returns. Genevieve bids Pelléas light the lamp in the castle tower as a signal of welcome.

Scene 3 - Mélisande and Genevieve speak of the darkness of the castle gardens and the forest. Pelléas says that there will be a storm; together they watch the ship on which Mélisande arrived sail away to likely destruction.

Act II

Scene 1- Pelléas brings Mélisande to 'the fountain of the blind' in the park. He recalls that she met Golaud in such a place. She plays with the ring Golaud gave her, and just at midday it falls into the deep water.

Scene 2 - In the castle Mélisande is with Golaud, who was thrown from his horse at midday. He says it was as if the forest were crushing him, tearing apart his heart. When she weeps, he asks if someone in the family has hurt her. She denies it, but complains of the weary darkness in which they live. He thinks her childish, and says that summer will come soon; then he notices that her ring - on which he placed great value - is missing. He orders her to look for it in the place where she has lied about losing it (a cave by the sea), and says that she should take Pelléas with her is it is now so dark and late.

Scene 3 - In order that she should be able to describe the place where she says she lost the ring, Pelléas takes her to a grotto by the sea. She is frightened, and they leave.


Scene 1- Mélisande sings as she dresses her hair in a tower. Pelléas is enchanted, and asks her to lean out to him; he plans to leave the next day. Her hair tumbles down the side of the tower and Pelléas is immersed in it. Golaud comes upon them, and scolds them for behaving like children.

Scene 2 - Golaud has brought Pelléas to the castle vaults, where the smell of death rises from the stagnant water. Golaud offers to hold his half brother as he peers down into the vault. Emerging from the vault, Golaud tells Pelléas to leave Mélisande alone, and hints that she may be pregnant.

Interval Scene 3- Golaud questions his son Yniold beneath the window of Mélisande room. He probes the relationship the child has observed between 'little mother' and uncle Pelléas. Then when the lamp is lit in the room he lifts Yniold, urging him to spy on the pair as they sit silently, gazing into the lamplight.

Act IV

Scene 1- Pelléas' father is recovering, but Pelléas himself is sad. He arranges to meet Mélisande by the fountain of the blind before he leaves.

Scene 2- In the castle Arkel speaks to Mélisande of the new life she will bring to the family; to drive away his thoughts of death, it will be good to kiss her forehead, or to cheek of an infant. Golaud announces that Pelléas is leaving. Mélisande notices that he has blood on his forehead, but he thrusts her aside. Bewildered, Arkel speaks of Mélisande's purity. Golaud is enraged, and takes Mélisande roughly by the hair before leaving. Mélisande says that he no longer loves her. "If I were God", Arkel says, "I would have pity on the hearts of men."

Scene 3- Having lost his ball among some boulders, Yniold tries to move them. He sees in the distance that a flock of sheep are lost.

Scene 4 - Pelléas waits for Mélisande by the fountain. When she arrives, he bids her stay out of the moonlight, but she is unafraid. They voice the love that they feel for one another. They hear the castle gates shut, and know they are trapped. Golaud appears and kills Pelléas.

Act V

Mélisande has given birth to a baby girl. Arkel is with her. Golaud comes, and left alone with her he asks her forgiveness. She seems to remember nothing. He demands to know if she loved Pelléas, and she asks where he is now. Golaud insists: was their love consummated? She says that it was innocent, but he answers that she lies even though she is close to death. She is confused, and Golaud despairs.

When Arkel gives Mélisande her child, she does not recognise her. "She is going to cry, too: I am sorry for her" are her last words. Golaud still wants "the truth", but Arkel chastens him. Arkel comments on how quietly she lived, and died; now, he says, the child will take her place.