Pelléas et Mélisande

Synopsis

Explore Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in our archive.

Act I

Prince Golaud, lost while out hunting, stumbles upon a beautiful young girl, frightened and weeping by a fountain. She refuses to tell him anything beyond her name, but reluctantly agrees to go with him. In his castle, King Arkel of Allemonde, Golaud’s grandfather, learns of Golaud’s marriage to Mélisande. Golaud fears to return, knowing that a political alliance would have pleased him better. Golaud’s half-brother Pelléas asks permission to leave the castle, but is refused. He must stay to greet his brother and his new bride. Golaud’s mother Geneviève introduces Mélisande to Allemonde and to Pelléas, who she asks to look after her.

Act II

Pelléas and Mélisande are by a well in the forest. Mélisande is playing with a ring Golaud gave her, throwing it high into the air. As the clock chimes noon she drops it into the water. At the same moment, Golaud is thrown from his horse while out hunting. When Mélisande comes to him he notices her ring is lost. Scared, she lies, telling him she lost it in a sea-cave. Although it is night, Golaud insists she goes to look for it, accompanied by Pelléas. Pelléas and Mélisande enter the sea-cave. At that moment the moon emerges from behind a cloud, revealing three beggars asleep just inside. Mélisande, frightened, begs to leave.

Act III

Mélisande is in a castle tower, brushing her hair. Pelléas arrives below and tells her he is leaving. He tangles himself in her hair, but Golaud catches them and tells them both off for behaving like children. Golaud takes Pelléas to a cave below the castle where it is dark and airless. He warns Pelleas to stay away from Mélisande who is now pregnant and delicate.

Golaud questions his son Yniold about Pelléas and Mélisande but the small boy knows nothing. Golaud holds him up to the window to spy on the two, but Yniold only sees them sitting and staring, not even talking. Golaud’s jealous fantasies are stirred.

Act IV

Pelléas’s father is now better and he prepares to leave, asking Mélisande to meet him one last time by the well. Arkel tries to reassure Mélisande that she may yet be happy in Allemonde, but Golaud interrupts and becomes angry with her, throwing her to the ground. Pelléas and Mélisande meet by the well. They confess their love and kiss. But Golaud is waiting in the dark and stabs Pelléas, before pursuing a fleeing Mélisande and turning the knife on himself, unsuccessfully.

Act V

Mélisande has given birth to a daughter, but is dying. Golaud visits her and tries to discover the truth of her relationship with Pelléas. She innocently confesses that she loved him. Golaud is tormented. She dies, and Arkel comforts Golaud.

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