Claude Debussy created this dream-like work – an introverted, enigmatic opera, seeming to vocalize the subconscious – based on the symbolist and iridescent play by Maurice Materlink. Dispensed of all drama, the declamatory and recitative-style music, according to Debussy, is a »description of what is not visible in nature«. It whispers subliminal messages on the mental processes of alienation between those bound by marriage and confides to us the tragedy between the unfortunate lovers Pelleas and Melisande. The »drame lyrique« by Debussy premiered in Paris in 1902 and was so unique that its post-Wagnerian yet veristic context must have been disconcerting. It did not take long, however, for this incredibly magical opera to conquer a worldwide audience. The Catalan theater group La Fura dels Baus, which has long since achieved cult status and is equally unique and internationally successful today, has agreed to stage this opera – in a sensational, moving and visually stunning creation far beyond any traditions.
Allemonde, realm of King Arkel
Golaud has got lost while being hunting. Following a weeping noise, he finds Mélisande, who has gone astray equally. The shy woman had fled from an unknown place and fate. Golaud can persuade her to come with him.
Geneviève is reading out a letter to her father-in-law, King Arkel, in which her son Golaud reports to his half-brother Pelléas on his marriage to Mélisande. As a sign of approval for their homecoming, he asks for the ingnition of a light which can be seen as far as the sea. Pelléas intends to depart. He has received a letter from a friend who is lying on his deathbed. Arkel, however, can retain Pelléas by referring to his own father’s dying condition and the imminent arrival of his brother.
Mélisande is telling Geneviève to what extent the gloominess of Allemonde depresses her. Together with Pelléas they are watching lights by the sea. It seems to Mélisande that she has recognised the ship which had brought them there.
Both, Pelléas and Mélisande are together by the water. She is playing with her wedding ring, which suddenly, at the stroke of twelve, sinks into the groundless depth of the water. Pelléas advises Mélisande, who is very concerned because of Golaud, to tell him the truth.
At the same hour, stroke of twelve, Golaud was injured in a riding accident. Trying to console Mélisande, who is very sorrowful about it, he realises that the wedding ring is missing. Golaud commands her to immediately search for the ring and sends her out
in the night, escorted by Pelléas.
Pelléas and Mélisande are on their way to the place, which she had wrongly announced to Golaud as the site, where the ring had got lost. When they discover three beggars there, they immediately turn back, terrified.
Pélleas has come to bid farewell to Mélisande. She asks him to stay. Pelléas, desiring to touch Mélisande, is playing with her hair. Golaud catches them and reproaches them as if they were children.
Golaud is leading Pelléas close to an abyss, from which the odour of death seems to ascend.
Golaud warns Pelléas to leave Mélisande alone as she is expecting a child.
Golaud is sounding Yniold out about Pelléas and Mélisande. Yniold is Golaud’s little son from his first marriage. Golaud forces him into spying on Pelléas and Mélisande. They are together silently and motionless.
Pelléas arranges a very last encounter with Mélisande. Since his father has been recovering, he now wants to take his leave.
Arkel is pleased about Pelléas’ father’s recovery. Besides that he hopes for a happier time for Mélisande. Golaud has got injured by a thorn-bearing hedge. When he becomes violently possessive towards Mélisande, Arkel calls a halt to his behaviour.
Yniold is watching sheep being led to the slaughter.
Pelléas and Mélisande are confessing their love for each other. Golaud is watching them and hence kills Pelléas.
Mélisande has given birth to a daughter. Golaud vainly tries to glean the truth from Mélisande about her relationship to Pelléas. He stays without an answer as Mélisande is deceasing. Almost unperceivedly she breathes her last breath.