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.
You just never know with Olivier Py, though I have to say that, apart from the awful Romeo et Juliette in Amsterdam, most of his productions are usually excellent. So too his Dialogues des Carmélites, recorded in Paris in 2013.
Patricia Petibon is a singer with a tendency to exaggerate, but here she is perfectly matched as Blanche. Watching her, I involuntarily get visions of Edith Piaf. Which of course suits the role very well: a small, skinny, frightened bird.
Her timbre is close to that of Denise Duval, but she lacks her carrying power and – mainly – her lyricism. Still, there is no denying that the role of Blanche is more or less tailor-made for her.
Sophie Koch is a strange choice for Marie. She looks far too young and lacks the confident superiority and power of persuasion so characteristic of the role. And the contrast with Lidoine (a wonderful Veronique Gens) is not great enough. Rosalind Plowright is an excellent Croissy and Sandrine Piau a delightful Constance.
Py uses the orchestral interludes to showcase religious scenes, including the evocation of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Sometimes a little “too much”, but the last scene, with the dark starry sky, brings a lump to my throat (Erato 0825646219537).
Here is the trailer:
Did you know that the story of Dialogues des Carmélites was filmed in 1960? In the film you can see, among others, Jeanne Moreau as Mère Marie and Pascale Audret as Blanche. Below is the last scene: