Through Opera, Debussy Reaches a New Audience

(New York Times) — It may seem a paradox that one of the most influential composers of modern sung theater completed only one opera. “Pelléas et Mélisande” brought the French composer Claude Debussy instant fame in 1902, but the stage work achieved such a perfection of his artistic ideals that he never managed to repeat the success.

Skeptical of the theater establishment, relentlessly self critical and plagued by illness in his final years, Debussy left behind a legacy that musicologists are, to some extent, still working to reconstruct. Even after a premiere performance, he would continue making adjustments, sometimes to more than one copy of a given score. And he left the majority of his stage works unorchestrated before dying at age 55.

The centennial of the composer’s death this year provides an occasion to revisit the less-known corners of his oeuvre. The label Warner Classics in January released the first compilation of Debussy’s complete works, a 33-CD set that includes four premiere recordings of vocal music. […]