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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Dialogues of the Carmelites

A great, old-school Met production receives a necessary revival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
All in a row: Isabel Leonard (left) stars as Blanche in Dialogues of the Carmelites.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's production of Dialogues des Carmélites is the stuff of legend. It's the Holy Grail for lovers of French opera and modernistic staging: a stark, elegant vision (by John Dexter) of emotional depth and religious beauty.  The good news is that this revival stars Isabel Leonard as Blanche. Patricia Racette (who sang the leading role the last time the Met revived this opera) is Madame Lidoine.. Felicity Palmer and Paul Appleby round out a stellar cast.

The bad news: the Met has scheduled just three performances.



Dialogues is a stark, sad true story of an order of Carmelite nuns whose world collapses with the onset of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. It is also the story of Blanche, terrified daughter of a wealthy family who fins her inner strength as a nun, overcomig her fear to join her sisters in a vow of holy martyrdom.

François Poulenc's music combines 20th century ideas with medieval French polyphony to create a unique sound-world for his nuns to inhabit. He said: "You must forgive my Carmelites. It seems they can only sing tonal music." And that's what you'll hear, all the way up to the finale: a chorus of the Salve Regina that is repeatedly interrupted by the sickening, falling thud of the guillotine's blade--and the silencing of their voices, one by one.

Dialogues of the Carmelites opens May 4. Please note that the Saturday matinée starts at the ungodly hour of 11:30am.

Recording Recommendations:
Orchestra and chorus of the Opera Lyon cond. Kent Nagano (Virgin/EMI 1992)
Blanche: Catherine Dubosc
Madame de Croissy: Rita Gorr
Mere Marie: Martine Dupuy
Madame Lidoine: Rachel Yakar

This is the second major recording of this opera, a complete, unabridged recording of Poulenc's score conducted by the sensitive baton of Kent Nagano. Recorded at the Opera Lyon with a strong cast, led by Catherine Dubosc, Rachel Yakar and legendary mezzo-soprano Rita Gorr who sang in the Paris premiere in 1957. There is no libretto.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.