Meet the characters: Pelleas and Melisande

4 Oct 2018

Based on Maeterlinck’s Symbolist play, Debussy’s opera is about a love triangle between two brothers and a girl with a mysterious past, that slowly tears the family apart. Get to know the characters and their relationships to each other.

© Candice MacAllister


Melisande is Golaud’s wife. At the beginning of the opera, Golaud finds her lost and frightened in the forest. Behaving strangely, she is unable to tell him what has happened to her, except that she comes from far away. Has a traumatic event caused her to block out memories of her past? Could she be Bluebeard’s last wife who managed to escape his murderous habits?

She is young, beautiful and enigmatic. Her long, Rapunzel-like hair can reach from a tower window to its base. But she is also nervous and fragile. The gloomy castle and its atmosphere of sickness and decay fill her with a deep sense of foreboding. She wants to escape the darkness and is fascinated by the reflection and fluidity of water. Golaud wants her to take on the responsibilities of wife and mother, but she wants to have some fun and feels best when spending time with Pelleas, who is a kindred soul.

© Candice MacAllister


As the oldest grandson of King Arkel, Golaud feels the weight of responsibilities on his shoulders. By marrying Melisande, he has rejected his grandfather’s plans for him – an arranged marriage for the good of the kingdom. After initially fearing returning to the family castle, he is determined to make his new marriage work and to carry on his grandfather’s legacy.

He is a widower with a young son called Yniold. He has not been the same since his wife died and is hoping that Melisande can bring some lightness, warmth and joy back into his life.

Golaud is the sensible and pragmatic older brother of Pelleas. Tall and greying at the temples, he is prudent, serious and steadfast. Used to staying strong for the family’s sake and not expressing his feelings, he does not realise how much the jealousy over Pelleas and Melisande’s friendship consumes him until it is too late.

© Candice MacAllister


Pelleas is Golaud’s younger half-brother. Their mother is Genevieve, but they have different fathers. Pelleas’ father lies sick in the tower of the castle. Pelleas is desperate to explore the world and keeps looking for excuses to leave the castle. His grandfather, Arkel, has to keep reminding him of his familial responsibilities.

More sensitive than his brother, Pelleas feels emotions more strongly and sees the poetry in the world around him. Golaud thinks he is strange but Melisande sees his honest and caring nature. At times callow, he can also be introspective and brooding.

With his youth comes impulsiveness. He takes any opportunity to spend time with Melisande, but does not recognise the depth of his feelings until he realises he might never see her again.


Arkel is the ageing king of the mythical kingdom of Allemonde. He is the father of Genevieve and the grandfather of Golaud and Pelleas.

Once a feared ruler and patriarch, he is going blind and accepts that death is near. As he reaches the end of his life, his priorities are changing. He is still concerned about the future of his kingdom but finds it easier to forgive.

After initial reservations about Golaud’s marriage, he accepts Melisande into the family. He shows great sensitivity towards her, whereas his relationships with his grandsons are based around duty and honour. It brings him happiness in his old age to have youth and beauty in the dark castle and he hopes that Melisande will help bring on a new era. However, in the end, his wisdom of age makes him admit that the fateful cycle will continue.


Genevieve is the mother of Golaud and Pelleas. She has been married twice and had sons with different husbands. She has been raising Yniold to help Golaud after his first wife’s death.

She is a strong and resilient woman. Having lived in the castle for nearly 40 years, she has become accustomed to its gloominess and gives advice to Melisande to help her settle in. Sympathetic to Melisande, she is thankful to have another woman in the castle.


Yniold is Golaud’s son from his first marriage. He is a young boy happy to play games, like looking for seashells. He does not understand what is happening around him or the consequences of his childish responses. He enjoys spending time with Pelleas and Melisande who use him as a cover for spending time together.

By Beata Bowes