Ahead of the SSO’s Pelléas with Dutoit, Vincent Plush traces the work’s history and reception in this country.

The death of Claude Debussy in March 1918 was “a great loss to music lovers the world over,” reported the column Musical Notesin The Newsletter(7 September 1918). “Australians know very little of (his few works),” the anonymous writer went on, “though Pelléas et Mélisandehas been performed here and appreciated by those who like the illusive rather than the boldly expressed in art.”

It is difficult to understand that statement. How could Debussy’s only opera have been performed in Australia barely 15 years after its premiere? This was at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in April 1902. The intervention of the First World War would have reduced that likelihood even further. There are other reports of various ‘arias’ having been performed in Australia, but these assertions are dubious too: Debussy famously refused to sanction performance of excerpts or orchestral arrangements of his opera. Do it all, or not at all, was his view.

Perhaps the columnist was referring to a production of the play on which the opera was based, Pelléas et Mélisandeby the Belgian symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949). But...