BY JAY NORDLINGER [New York Sun]
October 14, 2004
Is there any opera more shattering than "The Dialogues of the Carmelites," when it's done well? On Tuesday night, City Opera did it well. It was almost unbearable - that's how good it was.
"Dialogues," of course, is Francis Poulenc's masterpiece from 1953. It tells the story of nuns who suffer and die - are killed - in the French Revolution. Your high-school teachers and college professors may have been rahrah about this revolution; Poulenc, bless him, was not.
It so happens that, two seasons ago, the Metropolitan Opera performed "Dialogues" unforgettably. In that cast were Patricia Racette, Heidi Grant Murphy, Felicity Palmer, and Stephanie Blythe. (I should throw in Matthew Polenzani, too, to name one man.) Ms. Palmer, in particular, was consummate as the Old Prioress. James Conlon led understandingly from the pit.
City Opera's singers are not as famous as the Met's, but they are far from shamed. In the central role of Blanche is Rinat Shaham, an Israeli mezzo-soprano. She gave just about all one could ask, musically and dramatically. She captured a woman's searching and turbulence - and fear. Always fear, except perhaps in the opera's final moment. Her voice is a little smoky, but not impure. (We can hear Carmen in that voice, even when she is Blanche.) The upper register is vibrant, and the lower one bottled. Ms. Shaham showed a sure technique, featuring intonation and evenness. This was especially gratifying in Poulenc's exposed lines. And she never slopped over his intervals.
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Dialogues of the Carmelites, New York City Opera
By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times]
Published: October 15 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 15 2004 03:00
Modern opera is not the most popular attraction in cultural Manhattan but Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites has proved to be an encouraging exception. Completed in 1957, this examination of the crisis of faith during the French revolution was first performed here - rather ineptly - by the New York City Opera in 1966.
The mighty Metropolitan followed suit in 1977 with a powerful staging by John Dexter that remains a staple in the big house at Lincoln Center. Now the brave City Opera, next door, has come up with an alternative that sheds its own light.
The best news involves communication. Although Poulenc wanted his philosophies to be articulated in the language of the audience, the Met respected this wish only in the early years. The City Opera, however, reverts to the vernacular.
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