Blanche de la Force.....Isabel Leonard
Madame de Croissy.....Karita Mattila
Madame Lidoine........Adrianne Pieczonka
Mother Marie.............Karen Cargill
Sister Constance........Erin Morley
Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc brings the 2018-19 HD season to an end. When I saw this opera in San Francisco long ago, it was in this same production, only in English. This is my first time in French. Poulenc, who lived before supertitles, wanted the opera performed in the language of the audience. The production follows the historical context of the French Revolution while creating a context through abstractions. The giant white cross will stay in memory forever.
The opera begins in the home of Blanche de la Force with her father and brother. Her brother worries that she is always afraid while her father dismisses just about everything she says. But when she tells him she wishes to join the Carmelite convent, he doesn't refuse.
The convent of Carmelite nuns is changing. There are two novices, Blanche and Constance, and the mother superior is dying. Isabel and Erin are charming in their relationship throughout the opera. Karita Mattila plays her death scene to the ultimate extreme. It is frightening to watch. The opera is about death, so I suppose this is one extreme.
After she dies, a new mother superior is sent in from outside: Madame Lidoine. Adrianne Pieczonka played her very low key.
Blanche provides the story. She loves the private life and prayer, but news of the outside world seeps into the seclusion of the convent. The nuns agree to commit to becoming martyrs. Even Constance agrees. All but Blanche agree.
Her brother comes to warn her she is in danger. The priest is removed from his position and tries to escape. Finally they are all arrested and forced to give up their nun clothing for "normal" clothes. At this point Blanche escapes and finds her brother. She learns that her father has gone to the guillotine. She rejoins them right at the end. We hear the sound of the guillotine falling.
Isabel is such a spectacular performer. She gives us beauty, emotional connection, great singing and her own personal magnetism. She keeps the stream of emotion going.
This opera is deeper than opera usually is. Altogether it was a great performance with emotional and musical intensity and exceptional theatrical clarity.
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I apologize for removing an offending sentence. It bothered me that the chants didn't sound at all like chant.
I've read a number of explanations, including a doctoral thesis that has now convinced me that Constance NOT Blanche gave the dissenting vote for the oath of martyrdom. It makes a lot of sense structurally, and musically, pointing towards the motif in Blanche's first act utterance about how danger takes your breath away like icy water, but it's not as fearful when your up to your neck. She never has that motif again, but it's used at least four times in Constance's later music. None of this is, of course, necessary to understanding the passion of the work, but I always wondered "was it really Blanche who dissented?"
I haven't studied this deeply, but it is my third time to see it. I'm pretty sure the first one came without supertitles. I feel that this part of the plot is ambiguous, perhaps too ambiguous to be completely sure about. Blanche escapes and Constance does not. Constance has visions that she and Blanche will die together. Perhaps it is this vision that draws Blanche back.
This has been nominated for a Grammy.
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