In that odd corner of the repertory reserved for acknowledged masterpieces that seldom, if ever, get their due, pride of place is reserved for Claude Debussy’s Le martyre de Saint Sébastien. In the more than eight decades since the work’s Paris debut, Le martyre has been vilified, bowdlerized, and, most frequently, plain ignored. Like an ugly stepchild, the work is difficult to love. For starters, the score was originally intended to accompany an outré five-hour drama by Gabriele d’Annunzio, the Italian writer who, along with Oscar Wilde, attempted to turn decadence into high art during the last fin-de-siècle. D’Annunzio’s “mystery play” tells the story of St. Sebastian and metaphorically highlights the tensions between Christianity and paganism. Censured by clerics, secular critics, and the public at large following its premiere, the initial production, which opened at...

 
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