High Notes On This Day

Not Just ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’ – Claude Debussy’s Unfinished Operas

When you think of Claude Debussy’s operatic output, his lone opera “Pelléas et Mélisande” immediately springs to mind. But did you know that the composer, born on August 22, 1862, actually had a few more operas in the pipeline?

Here is a rundown of those other works that never came to fruition.

Rodrigue et Chimène

This would have been Debussy’s first opera as the libretto was worked on by Catulle Mendès in the late 1800s. Debussy himself saw the libretto in 1890, which was based on plays inspired by “El Cid.” However, his style started to change in ensuing years and the composer admitted to being “miserable” because of the opera. “Everything about it is wrong for me,” he even admitted.

He eventually left the opera behind, thought it would be completed in the late 1900s and given a premiere.

Le diable dans le beffroi

The opera is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Devil in the Belfry,” and was actually adapted by the composer himself. He never completed the opera, though he had some interesting ideas for it the work, including making the chorus the only singing parts of the work and having the devil whistle throughout. But he never completed the opera. This was the first of three operas commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera.

La Chute de la Maison Usher

Another Edgar Allan Poe adaptation that the composer also wrote the libretto for, the opera was worked on between 1908 and 1917, but was also left unfinished. He was passionate about the project but unfortunately, would develop cancer that would ultimately take his life. He left a few early scenes completed, but nothing else. There have been attempts at reconstruction and even a few recordings. This was also commissioned by the Met.

La légende de Tristan 

The other Met commission, the composer never got far with this score, leaving the opera unfinished. The opera was to be based on a novel by Bédier, but issues with the popularity of a theater adaptation forced Debussy away from working with the writer himself, ultimately forcing him to abandon the project. Additionally, Debussy was rather aware of the impact that taking on this opera would have, given the specter of Wagner’s famous and revolutionary opera based on the same myth.





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