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Pelléas et Mélisande illustration by Benedetto Cristofani

Pelléas et Mélisande

July 15 - August 18, 2023

Forbidden love leads to desire.

Golaud, grandson of King Arkel, falls in love and marries the mysterious Mélisande. His half-brother Pelléas falls for Mélisande as well. It’s a love triangle of royal proportions.

Not seen here since 1977, Debussy’s symbolist masterpiece will be directed and designed by Netia Jones, who recently directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She presents us with a dreamlike and meditative world, which seems of no time and of all time. Four thrilling singers will have their SFO debuts this summer including baritone Huw Montague Rendall and mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey.

Music By
Claude Debussy
Libretto By
Claude Debussy adapted from the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
Sung In
Instant Translation Screen
English and Spanish
Production support generously provided by
Robert L. Turner
Additional artistic support provided by
David B. & Anna-Karin J. Dillard
The performances of Harry Bicket are supported by
Joseph M. Bryan, Jr.
The engagement of Netia Jones is supported by
The Marineau Family Foundation
The performances of Susan Graham are supported by
Sarah Billinghurst Solomon
Production Illustration By
Benedetto Cristofani
Run Time
Approximately 3 hours 8 minutes; includes a 25-minute intermission
Please be advised
This production may contain depictions of violence.


  • Act I

    The forest. Golaud, following a wild boar, hears the sound of weeping and comes upon an unfamiliar clearing and an unfamiliar young woman who, after repeated requests, tells him her name–Mélisande–and reluctantly follows him out of the dark woods.

    The castle. Golaud and Mélisande have been married six months, but he still knows little about her. He fears that his grandfather, King Arkel, may not forgive him the match, and so he writes his half-brother, Pelléas, a letter asking him to light the castle lantern if the King is “ready to honor the stranger as his daughter.” Otherwise, he will set a remote course for his ship and never return. Pelléas wants to visit a dying friend, but old Arkel reminds him that his own father is just as ill; he had best stay to greet his brother and his bride.

    Before the castle. Golaud and Mélisande have returned. Gèneviève is showing Mélisande the gardens. Mélisande is distressed by the darkness of the world she now inhabits. The Queen seeks to comfort her. Pelléas joins them. The three watch a ship set out to a dark, stormy sea.

  • Act II

    A fountain in the park called Blind Man’s Well. Pelléas and Mélisande go to a thickly wooded spot at midday. She wants to play in the water, and he warns her not to slip. Leaning over her reflection, her hair falls in … and then, as she plays with the ring Golaud has given her, it slips in and sinks.

    At the same moment the ring fell from Mélisande’s hand into the water, Golaud fell from his horse while hunting and was injured. As she tends to him, Mélisande tells him how uneasy she feels here. He grasps her hands and sees that the ring is missing. He sends her out into the night to look for it.

    The seashore. Mélisande has told Golaud that she lost the ring in the sea. Pelléas brings her to a grotto on the shoreline so that she can see the place she claims to have dropped it. The place is stalked by the shadow of death. Pelléas and Mélisande see three bearded beggars sleeping in the cave and hurry away.

  • Act III

    A tower in the castle. Mélisande is combing her long, long hair. Pelléas comes along the road that winds below the tower; he has arrived to bid her farewell. Mélisande puts her hand out the window for him to kiss, then leans out until her hair falls about his head. Pelléas becomes blissfully entwined. Golaud comes near and scolds their “childishness.”

    Under the castle. Golaud leads Pelléas through the underground vault. A breeze of death blows through the rooms. Both men shudder and go out.

    On the terrace at the entrance to the vault. Golaud demands Pelléas stay away from Mélisande, especially since she is now expecting a child and any emotion could unsettle her.

    Below a castle window. Golaud is devoured by jealousy. He holds little Yniold, his son from his first marriage, up to the window to spy on Pelléas and Mélisande and to tell him what they are doing. Yniold can report no impropriety, but Golaud senses something between the two. It makes him feel old.

  • Act IV

    A room in the castle. Pelléas asks Mélisande to meet him once more before he goes. She promises to come to the fountain in the park.

    King Arkel enters and clasps Mélisande to his heart, sensing her unhappiness. Golaud comes in and is so irritated by the sight of his wife–the picture of innocence–that he drags Mélisande across the floor by her hair. Arkel takes pity on her.

    A park. Yniold is trying to reach the ball he has dropped behind a stone. Listening to a flock of passing sheep, he wonders why they have fallen quiet. The shepherd replies that they are not headed towards the sheepfold.

    Outside the castle gates. Mélisande goes to bid Pelléas farewell. The two, at last, declare their love with joy. Golaud comes from the castle and kills Pelléas, then pursues the fleeing Mélisande into the night.

  • Act V

    A room in the castle. Mélisande lies in bed. Arkel, Golaud and the physician are discussing her condition. Golaud is inconsolable in his remorse. Mélisande wakens as if from a dream–for that is how all these events have seemed to her–and Golaud rushes to her, begging her forgiveness and begging her for the truth. He demands to know whether she betrayed him with Pelléas. She replies simply that she loved Pelléas and denies that they were guilty. Arkel brings the daughter she has born and prepares last rites for Mélisande to free her soul.