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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Dialogues des Carmélites

Francis Poulenc's dark opera combines religion, politics and history to devastating effect.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Isabel Leonard is Sister Blanche de la Force in Dialogues des Carmélites.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera. 
The Met ends its season with this grim and brilliant 20th century opera, in its justifiably famous staging by John Dexter. Three performances only.

What is Dialogues des Carmélites
This is Francis Poulenc's searing feminist take on the Catholic Church and the French Revolution. It deals in equal proportion with religion and politics, placing the story of a young acolyte and the harc challenges she faces inside the convent against the grim fate of all of the Carmelite sisters during the Reign of Terror. They are all guillotined.

What's the plot?
The young noblewoman Blanche de la Force decides to enter a Carmelite convent in Compeigne as the French Revolution is on the march. There, she encounters the hardship of life inside the walls. The stern Mother Superior dies in agony. The convent is closed by the National Assembly. The nuns are arrested and condemned to death. They sing a "Salve Regina" prayer. One by one, they are led to their deaths. Blanche is the last to die. The opera ends in silence.

How's the music?
Francis Poulenc was a brilliant modernist who worked in a tonal idiom. Setting most of the opera as recitative, the score occasionally bursts forth into flowers of sound evoking the faith of the sisters of the order and Blanche's own fears and self-doubt. The final scene, as a cappella singing is interrupted by the juddering thunk of the (offstage) guillotine blade, is one of the most terrifying things that one can experience in the opera house.

How's the production?
John Dexter set this grim story in a stark visual language reminiscent of the Bayreuth productions of Wieland Wagner. He created one of the most moving and enduring productions in the Metropolitan Opera's repertory. It has held the stage since 1977.

Who's in it?
This revival features Isabel Leonard as Sister Blanche. She is flanked by a superb cast including Erin Morley as Sister Constance and the return of Karita Mattila as Madamoiselle de Croissy, the Mother Superior of the convent. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts.

When does it open?
There are just three performances of this opera this season and the first is on May 3.

Where can I get tickets?
Individual tickets  are available through the Met box office. There are rush tickets available for all three performances. Call the Met box office (212) 362-6000 or visit for more information.

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