Dutch National Opera presents

Pelléas et Mélisande Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

High point of opera history

Duration 3:15

Breaks 1

By Claude Debussy

Language French

Surtitles Dutch and English

At the 2019 Holland Festival DNO will present a new production of Pelléas et Mélisande. With its dreamy, ominous atmosphere, it is the only opera Claude Debussy finished. This work is regarded as an absolute apex in opera history. 

Team and cast

Stéphane Denève (L'amour des trois oranges, Dialogues des Carmélites) leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The title roles are performed by the young star singers Paul Appleby and Elena Tsallagova. Pelléas et Mélisande is directed by the Frenchman Olivier Py (Roméo et Juliette).


The story of Pelléas et Mélisande is based on a symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck about a vicious love triangle entangling two brothers and one woman.

Starcrossed Pelléas and Mélisande

While out hunting one day, Golaud happens on a confused Mélisande weeping at a spring. He marries her and brings her home to his grandfather King Arkel’s castle, where Golaud’s younger half-brother Pelléas also lives. Mélisande and Pelléas fall in love. One day, she is playing with her wedding ring when it accidentally falls into a well. At same instant, Golaud takes a fall from his horse. Furious over her missing ring, Golaud sends Mélisande and Pelléas out to find it, instructing his son Yniold to spy on them to see if they are lovers. Yniold finds the couple embracing and kills Pelléas; Mélisande later dies in childbed after giving birth to a daughter. The symbolic significance of each of the opera’s four main characters, with Mélisande embodying the soul, Pelléas the mind, Golaud matter and Arkel the intellect, gives the plot deeper resonance.

Nature and imagination

Explaining what led him to write the opera Pelléas et Mélisande, Claude Debussy said: ‘I wanted music to have a freedom that she perhaps has more than any other art, as it is not restricted to a more or less exact reproduction of nature, but instead deals with the mysterious correspondences between Nature and the Imagination (...). The drama of Pelléas which, despite its dream-like atmosphere, contains far more humanity than those so-called “real-life documents”, seemed to suit my intentions admirably. In it there is an evocative language whose sensitivity could be extended into music and into the orchestral backcloth.’

Stéphane Denève

Stéphane Denève leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He graduated from the Paris Conservatory and worked early in his career with conductors such as Georg Solti, Georges Prêtre and Seiji Ozawa. Recently Stéphane Denève was appointed Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony, succeeding David Robertson in 2019/2020. He has conducted opera productions at the Royal Opera, the Opéra national de Paris, De Munt in Brussels, the Glyndebourne Festival, la Scala in Milan and De Nationale Opera (L'amour des trois oranges, Dialogues des Carmélites).



Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is regarded by international critics as one of the best orchestras in the world. It is known for its unique sound and stylistic flexibility, and works with leading composers and conductors. On several occasions, for instance, the orchestra was conducted by the likes of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky. Since its foundation in 1888, there have been only seven principal conductors: Willem Kes, Willem Mengelberg, Eduard van Beinum, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, Mariss Jansons and Daniele Gatti. The orchestra’s patron is Her Majesty Queen Máxima. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra regularly releases CDs and DVDs on its own label, RCO Live.

Team, Cast and Chorus

Musical Director
Stéphane Denève
Stage Director
Olivier Py
Set and costumes
Pierre-André Weitz
Bertrand Killy
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Chorus of Dutch National Opera
Ching-Lien Wu
Pelléas, petit-fils d’Arkel
Paul Appleby
Golaud, petit-fils d’Arkel
Brian Mulligan
Arkel, roi d’Allemonde
Peter Rose
Le Petit Yniold
Tölzer Knabenchor
Een dokter
Michael Wilmering
Elena Tsallagova
Geneviève, mère de Pelléas et Golaud
Katia Ledoux
Een herder
Frederik Bergman

This performance is supported by: