Magazine article Opera Canada

Washington National Opera

Magazine article Opera Canada

Washington National Opera

Article excerpt

The major stumbling block of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites is right there in the tide: the dialogues. Unless they're animated by the performers' spirit, illuminated by some kind of inner fire, these lengthy conversations and cogitations on Roman Catholic theology can seem numbingly dry--especially when they're delivered in a language most of their audience can't easily understand. It's a danger well appreciated by the composer, who stated his strong wish that the opera be sung in the vernacular, and who saw that wish put into immediate practice when the opera was given its first performance, not in the French in which he'd composed it but in the Italian of Milan's La Scala. The Met, off and on, ignores Poulenc's preference (as it did in its last, brief revival in 2013); Washington National Opera, in a company premiere, laudably and sensibly didn't. I wish there hadn't been so much British-inflected stage English on audible display, but a good percentage of the text came through clearly and cogently, and the opera was surely the better for it.

Not all this production's blessings were unalloyed, but one shone forth pristine and pure: Layla Claire's Blanche de La Force, perhaps the finest embodiment of this elusive character I've seen and heard in my four decades of Dialogues. The Met makes the chronic mistake of assigning the role to a mezzo, but it was written for Poulenc's latter-day muse, the radiant soprano Denise Duval; and Claire, with her shimmering, pellucid light-lyric soprano, her pale elegance and balletic physical grace, kept reminding me of Duval without seeming in any way a copy. …

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