Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Powerful 'Dialogues' Staged and Sung with Precise Detail

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Powerful 'Dialogues' Staged and Sung with Precise Detail

Article excerpt


Although Francis Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmelites" has retained solid standing in the opera repertory since its premiere in 1957, it has never been a headlining blockbuster like "Madama Butterfly" or "Aida." The Sarasota Opera's powerful opening night performance of this same opera reinforces the first point -- it deserves its place in the top 20, if not 10, of operas ever written. It also begs the question, why is it not on the tips of everyone's tongues like "Carmen" and "Boheme?"

The answer to this last question is easy in some regards. There are no big hummable arias to send us out into the night. This opera is not a vehicle for any one outsized character, or couple. Costuming and sets don't call for rich colors or opulence.

"Dialogues des Carmelites" is a story of a fearful young woman, Blanche de la Force (Sandra Lopez), who becomes a novice of the Carmelite order as the French Revolution's Reign of Terror begins. The libretto, adapted from a 1947 screenplay drawn from a 1931 novella, is based on real events leading up to July 17, 1794.

In true 20th century form, "Dialogues" is not as much a coming-of-age tale or tragedy, as it is a psychological study of contrasting characters -- The Marquis de la Force (Young Bok Kim) to his son the Chevalier (Sean Christensen); Blanche to her cheerful fellow novice, Constance (Claire Coolen); the strong-willed Mother Marie to the wiser new prioress, Madame Lidoine (Michelle Johnson); and Blanche to her scolding mentor Mother Marie.

The opera is sung largely in recitative, flowing along conversationally. Poulenc used his keen ear for color variations of small group instrumental pairings and brief melodic gestures, as well a refined pen for the larger orchestral sweep. He is also a vocalist's composer with numerous songs, sacred and secular choral works, and a smattering of staged choral works and operas. …

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