Opera Scotland

Enfant Prodigue L'Enfant Prodigue; The Prodigal Son

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Claude Debussy (born St Germain-en-Laye, 22 August 1862; died Paris, 25 March 1918)


Édouard Guinand





First Performance: Paris, 27 June 1884.

First Performance in UK (concert): Sheffield (), 8 October 1908.

First Performance (staged): London (Covent Garden), 28 February 1910.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (King's Theatre), 1 December 1911

Scottish Opera première (concert): Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 5 February 2017.



L'enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Son) is a substantial cantata or scène lyrique for large orchestra and three soloists, with a duration of not much over half an hour. It was produced by Debussy as his third entry for the Prix de Rome competition for young composers. His victory prize in 1884 was an extended (all expenses paid) stay at the Villa Medici in Rome, where he was able to mature and develop as a composer. In musical style, to improve his chances of winning, the work is deliberately in a more conservative idiom than that which Debussy was already developing. It owes much to the recent operas of Massenet (Le roi de Lahore and Hérodiade) and Delibes - Lakmé with its Indian setting, was produced in 1883 - and there is even the odd hint of Gounod.



Lia, a villager (soprano)

Siméon, a villager, her husband (baritone)

Azaël, their son (tenor)


Plot Summary

The cantata is unusual as a treatment of the familiar biblical story, since the evidence of prodigality is largely omitted. It begins with an extended solo in which Lia shows that she is still desperate to hear news of her son, who has been absent for several years. Siméon is fed up with her attitude and commands that she accept events and get on with life. He leads her away. Azaël now enters, in rags, and apprehensive about the reception he is in for. Lia quickly recognizes him and their reunion is joyful as she forgives him. His father takes a bit longer to come round, but he is soon welcomed back into the family.

The Cast

 the Prodigal Son
 mother of Azaël
 father of Azaël

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