[Met Performance] CID:315460

Dialogues des Carmélites
Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, February 21, 1994

Debut : Kent Nagano

Dialogues des Carmélites (41)
Francis Poulenc | Georges Bernanos
Blanche de la Force
Dawn Upshaw

Madame de Croissy
Helga Dernesch

Madame Lidoine
Teresa Stratas

Mother Marie
Florence Quivar

Sister Constance
Heidi Grant Murphy

Mother Jeanne
Michelle DeYoung

Sister Mathilde
Wendy Hoffman

Marquis de la Force
James Courtney

Chevalier de la Force
Gary Bachlund

Vahan Khanzadian

Nico Castel

Bradley Garvin

First Commissioner
Charles Anthony

Second Commissioner
Jeffrey Wells

Kevin Short

Barbara Bystrom

Nancy Crolius

Suzanne Der Derian

Constance Green

Elyssa Lindner

Linda Mays

Theresa Yu-Ping Teng

Janet Wagner

Sara Wiedt

Beverly Withers

Carole Wright

Kent Nagano [Debut]

John Dexter

Set Designer
David Reppa

Costume Designer
Jane Greenwood

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Stage Director
David Kneuss

English translation by Machlis
Dialogues des Carmélites received eight performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Tim Page in Newsday

Poulenc's Moving Drama of Nuns at the Guillotine

French Revolution-bashing is always a worthy sport and Francis Poulenc and Georges Bernanos hit it hard with their opera "Dialogues of the Carmelites." Forget all the shibboleths about liberty, equality and fraternity. Poulenc and Bernanos expose the French Revolution for what it was: the direct forerunner of the modern totalitarian state; a leveling, regicidal monstrosity that prepared the way for similar social experiments, from Soviet Russia to Cuba, Cambodia and the "Sendero Luminoso."

The Metropolitan Opera's famous 1977 production of "Dialogues of the Carmelites" returned to the repertory Monday night and anybody who hasn't yet seen the work - or simply needs a reminder of just how deeply stirring an evening of music theater can be - should immediately plan to attend a performance. Surely this is the late John Dexter's masterpiece; his sparse staging (with the horrible and unforgettable [very first] image of slaughtered nuns lying face down on an elongated cross) has lost some of its novelty but none of its power.

Teresa Stratas - tiny, coiled and absolutely riveting - brought her customary vocal and dramatic intensity to the role of Madame Lidoine; talk about commanding a stage! Dawn Upshaw, although visibly pregnant, made a credible Sister Blanche: She sings with such natural sweetness and charm, yet proved fully capable of conveying her character's troubled nature. Heidi Grant Murphy is an apt replacement for Betsy Norden, who virtually owned the part of radiant, childlike Sister Constance at the Met for so many years; I can pay her no higher compliment. Florence Quivar brought a mixture of stern dignity and underlying human empathy to the role of Mother Marie. Helga Dernesch was magnificent as the dying Prioress. There was worthy support from Gary Bachlund, James Courtney, Kevin Short and, indeed, the whole cast; one had the sense throughout that everybody's heart was set on making this a great performance. Kent Nagano, in his Met debut, led the orchestra and chorus with the requisite tenderness and ferocity.

After roughly a dozen encounters with "Dialogues of the Carmelites," I am increasingly impatient with the opera's glorification of martyrdom; watching the novitiate Sister Blanche turn away her brother from the convent (under the careful watch of Mother Marie) reminded me of one of those newscasts about heartbroken families attempting to reclaim their Moonie children. Moreover, there is a whiff of Jonestown to the ghastly finale, where the entire order determines to willingly sacrifice itself for God and country.

And while I continue to find Poulenc's score tremendously effective in the theater, it now strikes me as blatantly manipulative and even rather cheap when considered as pure music; if Puccini had lived on the West Bank, converted to Catholicism and listened to a lot of neoclassical-period Stravinsky, I think he might have come up with something like "Dialogues of the Carmelites." For many, this will seem a high compliment; I too enjoy much of Puccini's - and Poulenc's - music, yet only rarely do I feel that I am being guided by a master creator, somebody who has examined and exhausted every possibility for a given phrase and then somehow divined the one, the perfect and inevitable Platonic solution. Put another way, I think Poulenc often opts out for ready-made musical gestures -fierce alternations of major and minor equal "drama," a sugar-sweet modulation represents spiritual sisterhood -rather than feeling his way through to something higher,

Still, if in my opinion this is not quite the great work it initially seems, I cannot imagine anybody coming to the Met's "Dialogues" for the first time without leaving overwhelmed. Get thee to the nunnery.

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