Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites: part 2

There are those operas that you just can’t spoil and Les Dialogues des Carmélites is one of them. For Poulenc, melody is the centre of the universe. His music is so poignantly beautiful and his composition so expressive that you don’t really need a director.

The opera’s themes are sacrifice, martyrdom, revolutions and ideologies, but those are just the side lines, because the main theme is an all-devouring fear that makes it impossible to live or die: “Fear is a terrible disease. I was born of fear, in fear I live and in fear I shall die. Everyone despises fear, so I am condemned to be despised.

Vienna, 2008 and 2011

In 2011, Oehms released a ‘Zusamennschnitt’ of performances of Dialogues des Carmélites, recorded live at the Theater an der Wien in January 2008 and April 2011.

Sally Matthews is a very moving Blanche, girlish but with just enough personality to give her character a bit more body. Occasionally whiny too – Blanche to the full.

Deborah Polaski is irresistible as Madame de Croissy and Michelle Breedt is a more than impressive Mère Marie. Just because of her fantastic achievement it is regrettable that this performance (the wonderful Carsen production!) was not released on DVD!

The ORF Orchestra under Bertrand de Billy plays the stars from the sky. Firm, where necessary, and whisper-soft when needed. (Oehms OC 931)

Milan, 2004

Speaking of Robert Carsen: for me, his production of Dialogues des Carmélites is one of the absolute highlights in the history of De Nationale Opera in Amsterdam.
In February 2004, the production was filmed at La Scala but I am not entirely happy with it. My disappointment mainly relates to Dagmar Schellenberger’s performance as the lead role.

Admittedly, it is not easy to emulate the unforgettable Susan Chilcott (she died in 2003 of breast cancer, only 40 years old), and Schellenberger indeed cannot not do it. In the beginning  her strong tremolo and her not always pure notes are irritating.. But as the opera progresses, she gains a great deal of credibility, and through her brilliant acting and complete abandonment, she makes the development of her character very tangible. And almost as a matter of course, her singing also becomes more beautiful and softer.

The role of Madame de Croissy is played by one of the best singing actresses of our time, Anja Silja. Her performance is truly breathtaking, and even though her voice is not that steady anymore – it suits the character of an old and mortally ill prioress very well. Her death struggle makes for unprecedentedly thrilling theatre, and it is a great credit to Carsen (and the rest of the cast) that the scenes that follow do not make us lose interest.

Muti conducts with verve and knows exactly how to strike the right tone. He really succeeds in translating the spectre of the revolution and its excesses into sound. He is at his very best, however, in the lyrical, contemplative scenes, and  in his hands the chilling ending reaches a truly blood-curdling climax. Make sure you have a big bag of Kleenex within reach, because you really won’t keep it dry (Arthaus 107315).

Below is the trailer:

Part one
Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites. Part one

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