Mélisande's Charm and the Truth of Her Music

Jann Pasler

in Rethinking Debussy

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199755639
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894932 | DOI:
Mélisande's Charm and the Truth of Her Music

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Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande is often considered radically new. But whereas scholars have shown how this work should be understood in relation to Wagner or Symbolist theater, this chapter situates it in the context of French musical tradition. Learning to express seduction and enchantment was both a critical aspect of composers' Conservatory training and an important theme in nineteenth-century French opera. Mélisande's antecedents include Ambroise Thomas's Mignon, Delibes's Lakmé, and even Massenet's Thais. However, it is not just the beauty of Mélisande's voice that interested Debussy, but her voice as a medium of truth. The opera suggests that truth can disappear and die before we grasp it. Mélisande and her charms thus were not a metaphor for the social order or French identity, but a conduit to a new kind of beauty, or what Charles Morice called “the dream of the truth.”

Keywords: charm; Debussy; French musical tradition; French opera; Mélisande; Mignon; Paris Conservatory; Pelléas et Mélisande; truth

Chapter.  8318 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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