Australian performances of Debussy’s only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, have been few and far between. Aside from a Sydney Conservatorium production in 1950 (under Eugene Goossens), a production sung in English by Victorian State Opera in 1977 (revived in 1982), and an Opera Australia production in 1998, Australians haven’t had a chance to hear this music live on their own shores. These performances by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Swiss maestro Charles Dutoit, are the first time any of the state orchestras have performed the opera in concert form and a welcome chance for audiences to immerse themselves in one of the landmark operas of the 20th century.

Based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 Symbolist play of the same name (which also provided creative fodder for incidental music by Fauré and Sibelius, as well as a symphonic poem by Schoenberg), Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisandetakes place in the imaginary kingdom of Allemonde.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Pelleas et Melisande Michaela Selinger, Elliot Madore and Charles Dutoit with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photos © Darren Leigh Roberts

In a similar vein to the Tristan and Isolde legend, the story...