Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Dialogues de Carmélites</em>, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
27 Feb 2018

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

Dialogues de Carmélites, Guildhall School of Music and Drama

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Chloe Latchmore (Mere Marie); Bertie Watson (2er Commissaire, Thierry, M Javelinot, Le Geolier); Georgia Bishop (La Prieure, Mere Jeanne)

Photo credit: Clive Barda

 

This new production which Martin Lloyd-Evans has devised for the postgraduate opera students at the Guildhall School may share some of Carsen’s and his designer Michael Levine’s visual minimalism but it is altogether a calmer, more intimate affair. Lloyd-Evans, conductor Dominic Wheeler and the young cast pay great respect to this challenging work: it is no mean feat to sustain a pretty well unrelievedly intense mood for so long, so effectively.

The production team achieve this through a combination of period-specific detail, simple iconographic statements by designer takis, and Robbie Butler’s striking lighting design, which work collectively to both link the tableaux-like episodes of Poulenc’s narrative and allow space for symbolic gesture. Poulenc’s Stravinkian ostinatos injected momentum into the unfolding rituals. Admittedly, though, spiritual serenity can be achieved at the expense of inflamed passions, and some of the crowd scenes fell a little flat, lacking a palpable sense of menace and terror.

And, though the Guildhall School tackled Poulenc’s opera just seven years ago, it does seem a strange choice for a student production given that there are so few roles for the men - and for those chaps taking those roles that do exist there is not much time to establish credibility of character - and that even the plentiful prioresses are seldom individualised. Moreover, the grandeur of the choral scenes might seem to require more forces and funds than the average music college can muster.

Commissioned in 1953 by La Scala, Dialogues des Carmélites is based on a play by Georges Bernanos which dramatises the experiences of a neurotically anxious young aristocrat, Blanche de la Force, who, in search of spiritual peace and safety, leaves her family home at the beginning of the French Revolution to join the Carmelite order in Compiègne. But, the convent walls cannot keep out Revolutionary convictions. Blanche and her fellow sisters are arrested and while she initially flees from the oath of martyrdom that they have all taken under the guidance of the formidable Mère Marie, as her sisters embrace the ultimate sacrifice, Blanche returns to take her place at the scaffold.

What seems important, and what Lloyd-Evans and takis clearly appreciate, is that this is not an opera about the French Revolution. Indeed, I can’t find, or write myself, a better explanation of what the opera is ‘ about’ than this ‘explanation’ by Donald Spoto’s explanation in Opera News fifteen years ago:

‘It is rather a series of nearly classical dialogue-scenes in which issues and questions of deeply human and religious significance are set forth, explored and clarified. The key to its complex of ideas is to be found in certain matters of the faith that claimed the loyalties of Poulenc and of Georges Bernanos, whose lifelong motto was set forth at the end of his novel Journal d’un Curé de Campagne (Diary of a Country Priest, 1936): “Tout est grâce” - everything is grace.’ [1]

This concept is powerfully embodied in one line in the libretto, when the Le Prieure warns the overly fervent, naively self-righteous Blanche, who is seeking to enter the order, ‘Prayer alone justifies our existence .... we are bound to it day and night’. These words may be difficult for a non-believer to understand or empathise with, but they underpin the opera, and Lloyd-Evans’ production. The musical set-pieces of observance - the Qui Lazarum, Ave Verum Corpus and Salve Regine - are architectural linchpins in the unfolding sequence of tableaux through which the spiritual journeys of Blanche and Mère Marie is conveyed. During the performance I was reminded of the words of one of my colleagues, Anne Ozorio, who, writing of the last GSMD production in 2011 observed that, ‘Dialogues des Carmélites … unfolds as a series of disconnected tableaux, like the Stations of the Cross. This structure is significant, for Poulenc is connecting the nun’s journey to the guillotine to Christ’s journey to the cross. The narrative is deliberately stylized to emphasize the spiritual and moral implications of the plot. It’s not simple narrative.’

Various hanging flats - interior walls, marble edifices, grilles that evoke both confessional chambers and prison gates (and when florally decorated, garden trellises) - slide, diverge and re-form, at one point forming an air-borne Crucifix, and ultimately coalesce as a granite headstone memorialising the life of Blanche de la Force. The subtle movement and prevailing stillness expressed an unassailable spiritual nobility.

Claire Lees (Soeur Constance); Jake Muffett (1er Officer); Meriel Cunningham (Mere Gerald); Michael Vickers (Le Marquis); Eva Gheorghiu (Soeur Felicite).jpgClaire Lees (Soeur Constance); Jake Muffett (1er Officer); Meriel Cunningham (Mere Gerald); Michael Vickers (Le Marquis); Eva Gheorghiu (Soeur Felicite). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Lucy Anderson’s Blanche was fittingly unbalanced and febrile, and if at first, in the scene with Michael Vicker’s luxuriously costumed Marquis de la Force, her broad vibrato diffused the focus of the tone, then later, when paradoxically attired in humble habit, the rich layers of her soprano blossomed with lyric intensity. I was pleased, too, that the oft-cut spoken scene, which links the final conversation between Marie and Blanche and the assembling of the nuns in their prison cell, was retained. Blanche’s street encounter with citizens who tell her of the arrest of the nuns and are astonished by the emotive response of this ‘servant’ who declares she has never been to Compiègne, is pivotal to her remorseful acceptance of her place beside her sisters at the scaffold.

Chloë Latchmore’s Mère Marie was superbly acted and sung. She movingly conveyed the spiritual misunderstandings that this fervent but sometimes misguided nun must face, and her struggle to truly understand the new prioress’s guidance that, ‘It is not up to us to decide whether our names will later appear in a list of martyrs’ was deeply affecting. Latchmore has a strong middle voice but can also project convincingly at the top, whatever the dynamic; this was an utterly convincing vocal and dramatic performance.

Georgia Mae Bishop threw her all into the Prioress’s all too human fears of death (though the quasi-Gothic blue/black eye-shadow was perhaps a supernatural step too far). Claire Lees captured Sister Constance’s gaiety and unpretentious spiritual vision. The French diction of the entire cast was exemplary.

Dominic Wheeler’s direction of the Guildhall School's instrumentalists reminded me how sympathetic and helpful Poulenc’s orchestral writing is to the voices: at times the orchestral fabric becomes a huge organ-like tapestry, supporting their arioso lines. Elsewhere, the strings in particular conjured an almost Tchaikovskian lyricism and ardency, while finely delineated woodwind playing was complemented by warm and pretty reliable horns.

With the first UK performance of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking ­ (at the Barbican Hall last Tuesday) fresh in my mind, the obvious narrative parallels with Poulenc’s opera seemed strong. But, in Dialogues, the spiritual mysteries are in the music itself, something which to me seemed lacking in Heggie’s score, and Wheeler did much to communicate the ambiguities and conflicts.

Much, of course, rests upon the opera’s final scene. Some might have wished for more melodrama than Lloyd-Evans offered, but, for me, this opera is about sacrifice - a journey through fear of death to faith in martyrdom - and this needs no grand gestures. Earlier in the opera, the second prioress confronts the Revolutionary Officer who comes to arrest the nuns, and who taunts their readiness to remove their religious habits: ‘Your uniform does not make you a soldier.’ And, while Lloyd-Evans’ closing gesture pays a nod to the opening image of Carsen’s production - of neatly folded habits decorously arrayed across the ROH stage - as each of the nuns stepped forward and placed her brown habit on the ground, and the shocking swishing of the guillotine sent shudders through the instrumental texture, we understood that this humble ‘offering’ was a sign of spiritual serenity and transcendence.

Claire Seymour

Poulenc: Dialogues de Carmélites

Blanche - Lucy Anderson, Le Chevalier/Premier Commissaire - Daniel Mullaney, L’Aumônier - Eduard Mas Bacardit, Le Marquis - Michael Vickers, Premier Officer - Jake Muffet, Le Prieure/Mère Jeanne - Georgia Mae Bishop, Soeur Constance - Claire Lees, Mère Marie - Chloë Latchmore, La seconde Prieure - Michelle Alexander, Soeur Mathilde - Lucy McAuley, Deuxième Commissaire/Theirry/M.Javelinot/Le Geôlier - Bertie Watson; director - Martin Lloyd-Evans, conductor - Dominic Wheeler, scenography and costume designer - takis, lighting designer - Robbie Butler.

Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Silk Street, London; Monday 26 th February 2018.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­



[1] Donald Spoto, ‘Dialogue on Carmélites II: A Roman Catholic's Perspective’, Opera News, Jan 2003, Vol. 67, Issue 7.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):