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Pelleas Et Melisande
Pelléas et Mélisande, or Pelléas and Mélisande, is a French opera by the famous Claude Debussy. The five-act opera borrows its libretto from Maurice Maeterlinck's play with the same title. The opera premiered in April 1902 at the Salle Favart, Paris. The main characters, Pelléas and Mélisande, were played by Jean Périer and Mary Garden, with André Messager as the music conductor.
The opera was produced by Opéra-Comique and is termed one of the best in 20th-century music. It is the only opera completed by Debussy, who wanted to create the ideal opera and wasn't satisfied with the initial projects he attempted. Even then, Pelléas et Mélisande wasn’t his first choice. Debussy saw La Princesse Maleine, the first play by Maurice Maeterlinck, in 1891 and applied for permission. But when Maeterlinck replied that he promised the rights to Vincent d'Indy, Debussy shifted his focus to Pelléas et Mélisande and waited for its first performance in 1893. The play also interested other musicians from the era.
Interesting Background Information and History
The casting for the opera caused trouble between Debussy and Maeterlinck. The playwright wanted his longtime companion, Georgette Leblanc, for the lead role of Mélisande. However, Albert Carré, the opera director, wanted to cast Mary Garden, a relatively new Scottish singer back then. Debussy wasn’t sure about Garden, though he didn’t want Leblanc in the lead role. According to sources, Debussy told his friends that Leblanc speaks out of tune. Fortunately, Debussy was impressed by Garden’s singing.
That said, Maeterlinck was furious by the change and tried his best to stop the opera from being premiered. When his attempts weren’t successful, he went to Debussy’s home to threaten him. He also made a public declaration that he dissociated himself from the opera and hoped it would be a failure. In fact, Maeterlinck refused to watch the opera. Finally, he watched it in 1920, after Debussy passed away two years ago. On a later date, Maeterlinck confessed that he was wrong and Debussy was right in casting Mary Garden as Mélisande.
The premiere received a lukewarm response. Debussy's fans were thrilled, but the opera company's regular audience found the opera objectionable. Even the critical reviews were mixed. That said, the opera became a cult favorite among young aesthetes and continued to be famous in the 20th and 21st centuries.