Culture Magazine

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Dialogues of the Carmelites

By Superconductor
One of the greatest Met productions receives a necessary revival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Dialogues of the Carmelites

The sisters of the Carmelite order in John Dexter's production of Dialogues of the Carmelites.
Photo by James Heffernan © 1977 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera's John Dexter 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 of emotional depth and religious beauty.  The good news is that this revival stars Patricia Racette as Blanche, a role she sung at the Met ten years ago. Felicity Palmer and Isabel Leonard 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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