*Dialogues of the Carmelites,* 5/2/19
Barbara and I saw *Dialogues of the Carmelites* at the Met on 5/2/19. I'd seen not just this opera but this same production twice before at the Met, in 2002 and 2013. It's an amazing opera, it never loses its punch, and the John Dexter production is one of their oldest (1977) and one of their best.
*D of the C* was written by Francis Poulenc in 1957. It's a fictionalized version of the true story of an order of Carmelite nuns who were sent to the guillotine. Their deaths were seen as a turning point in the French Revolution, which officially ended days after their execution. It's not just one of the greatest operas of the 20th century, it's one of the greatest operas ever. It's so beautifully constructed and the music has incredible power. I was particularly struck by the orchestra interludes in this performance, they were stunning.
There are a few "numbers" in the opera, arias or impressive scenes that are set apart in a way that you often see in an opera, but the audience would never think to applaud after a scene or aria. They're too drawn into the drama, they don't want to break the spell.
I love the opera but the real draw to see it a third time was the chance to see my beloved Karita Mattila playing Madame de Croissy, the prioress at the start of the opera. Her character has a tour de force death scene, which I knew would be a stunner with Mattila in the role. Her voice doesn't quite hook into the low range required, but her musicality and especially her full throttle drama more than made up for any vocal concerns. She's an incredible artist and I'll see everything she does. Heck, I'm even thinking of going to Munich this fall to see her in *Lohengrin.*
The point-of-view character is Blanche de la Force, a young noblewoman who enters the convent to escape her anxiety over the Revolution. It was sung in this performance by Isabel Leonard, who had also played the role at the Met when I saw it in 2013. She seemed like a young artist back then, and just seemed like an artist this time! She's had quite the season at the Met: she was Marnie in *Marnie* this fall, and Mélisande in *Pelléas et Mélisande* this spring. I wonder what it was like for her coming back to this role. The music itself hasn't changed, but of course she has changed quite a lot in the last six years.
Adrianne Pieczonka played Madame Lidoine, the new prioress, and she knocked me out, she has absolutely the perfect voice for the role. Full and vibrant but still clean and supple, she had just the right mix of cool and warm. Erin Morley played Constance, a novice, she sang beautifully and nailed the tricky balance of spunk and spirituality that you need in this part. Karen Cargill played Mother Marie - - she did a good job but didn't have the blazing quality that I want in the role (Florence Quivar was the standard-bearer in the broadcast I heard in 1994).
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted the Met Orchestra. He's such a wonderful asset to the house, he gives glorious performances and clearly the orchestra loves him. I want to say this in a way that puts a positive spin, it could so easily sound like an insult: the orchestra often had a loose quality, just this side of sloppy. It made the performance feel spontaneous. My friend Ethlouise says this is French!
One of the most touching moments of the performance was in the first bow. The twelve nuns who had been sent to the guillotine in the last scene all came out first, led by Donald Palumbo, the Met's chorus master. These women sing together a few times over the course of the opera, and they're not exactly a chorus - - they're principal singers who sing liturgical music as a sort of chamber chorus. Clearly Palumbo bowed with them because he had worked with them, coached these solo singers to sing like a chorus. Their blend was ravishing, they couldn't have been better.
Here's the final scene from a 1987 revival at the Met, this is the production they're still using. I don't know of another opera that builds up to the finale in such a relentless way. It's just plain overpowering. Poulenc wrote the fall of the blade of the guillotine into the score and it's shocking every time. On a side note, Mme. de Croissy in this performance was played by Regine Crespin, who had played Mme. Lidoine in the Paris premiere.
*D of the C* was written in French in 1957 but premiered at La Scala in Italian. It was performed three times that year, in three countries in three languages, with starry casts in each city:
LA SCALA, January
Blanche: Virginia Zeani
Mme. de Croissy: Gianna Pedezini
Mme. Lidoine: Leyla Gencer
Mother Marie: Gigliola Frazzoni
PARIS OPERA, April
Blanche: Denise Duval
Mme. de Croissy: Denise Scharley
Mme. Lidoine: Regine Crespin
Mother Marie: Rita Gorr
SAN FRANCISCO, November
Blanche: Dorothy Kirsten
Mme. de Croissy: Claramae Turner
Mme. Lidoine: Leontyne Price (her professional opera debut)
Mother Marie: Blanche Thebom