Music by Claude Debussy
The libretto is based on the eponymous play by Maurice Maeterlinck (with cuts)
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Daniel Kramer
Set Designer: Giles Cadle
Costume Designer: Michael Crass
Assistant Stage Director and Choreographer: Elaine Tyler-Hall
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford
Lighting Adaptation for the Mariinsky II by Yegor Kartashov
Musical Preparation: Natalia Mordashova
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko
French Language Coach: Ksenia Klimenko
A dark forest in a distant land. A young woman flees her past. Prince Golaud, hunting a trail of blood, discovers the runaway princess, Mélisande, and is taken by her beauty and her royal blood. Golaud takes Mélisande out of the forest.
Back home, on the depleted island of Allemonde, Geneviève pleads with King Arkel to allow her son, Prince Golaud, to return home with his new wife, Mélisande. Arkel laments Golaud’s failure to wed another whose union would have ended the war that cripples his nation. But in his old age and encroaching blindness, Arkel leaves the decision to destiny and grants permission for Golaud to return home. Pelléas, the bastard child of Geneviève, enters and begs King Arkel to let him leave the island to visit a dying friend. Arkel refuses, reminding Pelléas that his presence is needed at home to prepare for his brother’s return and to care for his own dying father upstairs. The lamps are lit for Golaud’s return.
On a cliff atop the island, Geneviève shows Mélisande the unending darkened forests of Allemonde which she has endured for forty years and the glistening sea far beyond. Pelléas joins them. Pelléas and Mélisande stare out in excitement as the boat which brought Mélisande ushers away some lucky few. Geneviève asks Pelléas to escort Mélisande home. Pelléas informs Mélisande that he is leaving tomorrow.
Deep in the forest, Pelléas leads Mélisande to an old well which hither to cured the blind – until King Arkel himself began to go blind. Mélisande basks in the too little seen sunlight. Mélisande plays a dangerous game of catch with her wedding ring over the bottomless well and drops the ring into the well at the ominous stroke of noon. Pelléas urges Mélisande to tell Golaud the truth.
Golaud storms about his bedroom. While hunting, precisely at the stroke of noon, he was tossed from his horse. Mélisande asks Golaud to take her away from the island; she senses something awful that she cannot explain. Golaud, taking her hands to comfort her, notices the wedding ring is missing. Mélisande lies and says that she lost it in a cave by the sea. Golaud explodes and forces Mélisande to go hunting for it immediately – with Pelléas.
At the mouth of the cave, Pelléas and Mélisande stand in terror. Pelléas forces Mélisande to enter so she can lie truthfully to Golaud about the place where she “lost” the ring. The moon emerges and reveals three beggars sleeping in the cave. Mélisande is terrified and runs home.
Mélisande, now locked in her tower, contemplates her own escape. Pelléas interrupts and again tells Mélisande that he is leaving tomorrow. Mélisande opens herself to Pelléas as best she can; Pelléas binds himself in Mélisande’s metaphoric love. Golaud discovers the two and chides them both for playing like children.
Golaud takes Pelléas on a journey to smell the stench of death up-close.
Released from Golaud’s threatening grip, Pelléas basks in the sunlight. Golaud tells Pelléas that Mélisande is now pregnant and that he must therefore keep a subtle distance – so as not to upset her. Pelléas defies his half-brother’s wishes and goes to Mélisande in her tower.
Beneath her window, Golaud questions his son, Yniold, about Pelléas and Mélisande’s behaviour. But Yniold does not tell his father what he wants to hear. A light in the tower turns on and Golaud lifts Yniold high in the air to spy on Pelléas and Mélisande. Yniold sees Pelléas and Mélisande sitting, staring into the light.
King Arkel throws a party to celebrate the recovery of Pelléas’ sick father and the coming birth of Golaud and Mélisande’s baby. Hope is returning to Allemonde. During the party, Pelléas finds Mélisande in another room and plans a last secret meeting at the well before his hopeful departure tomorrow.
Arkel enters and showers Mélisande with gifts of love for the arrival of her baby. Golaud enters, blood on his forehead, and confirms Pelléas’ departure the next day. Mélisande tries to care for Golaud but he explodes and accuses Mélisande of infidelity, throwing her to the ground and dragging her about. Arkel rises to control Golaud and to protect Mélisande. Arkel tries to comfort Mélisande. Yniold tries to free his toy which is wedged between two rocks. He tries to enlist Mélisande’s help; but she is distracted by her own grief and guilt. She plays a game with Yniold who sees a flock of sheep being led to the slaughter. Yniold runs off in terror.
Pelléas prepares for his last meeting at the well with Mélisande. Mélisande arrives, scared to enter the darkness with Pelléas. But once she does, they declare their love for one another. The gates of the palace close early. Golaud appears. The lovers kiss. Golaud murders his half-brother, Pelléas. Mélisande flees for her life.
The family gathers in Mélisande’s room as she fights for her life. She awakes with no recollection of the murder or of her premature baby’s birth. Golaud asks to be alone with Mélisande and instantly obsesses over the true nature of her love for Pelléas. Arkel re-enters to protect Mélisande.
Mélisande is introduced to her baby girl, says “I pity her” and quietly dies. Arkel leads the family out of the room. Now it is her daughter’s turn.
World premiere: 30 April 1902, Opéra Comique, Paris
Premiere in Russia: 19 October 1915, Musical Drama Theatre, Petrograd
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 13 April 2012
Running time: 3 hours 25 minutes
The performance has one interval
The highlighting of performances by age represents recommendations.
This highlighting is being used in accordance with Federal Law N139-FZ dated 28 July 2012 “On the introduction of changes to the Federal Law ‘On the protection of children from information that may be harmful to their health and development’ and other legislative acts of the Russian Federation.”