4.20.2009

Dialogues of the Carmelites / Austin Lyric Opera : 3 of 5

The last production of Austin Lyric Opera's season was Dialogues of the Carmelites, a 1957 French opera by Poulenc, which I was really interested to see since I enjoy experiencing new works for the first time. But I have to say that while this production was extremely well performed, it's just about the most disturbing and depressing opera I've ever seen. The subject matter is a convent of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution who are all executed by guillotine in the final scene. A major theme of the plot is fear, and the main character Blanche is so possessed by it that I could hardly look at her horrified face thinking I would go insane, too! (Interestingly, the original Blanche from the opera's 1957 premiere was in the audience.) While the plot is certainly thought-provoking and deals with questions of faith, overall there is almost nothing uplifting about the story (except for the character of Sister Constance, who shines as the one source of joy in the entire cast). The sets were simple but effective (and all changed visibly on stage with no delay between scenes), and the costumes ranged from simple habits (I was impressed that the nuns actually had cut their hair super-short for their roles) to French Revolution "zombies" (I can't think of any better way to describe the chorus!). Even though the music is modern, it's certainly accessible and similar to a film score, and I enjoyed the use of piano as well. Dialogues of the Carmelites certainly isn't for everyone, and I can't imagine a worst first opera for someone to see (I'm amazed ALO chose to make this production the season finale). A few people in the audience didn't even return after the first act, but in my opinion, you have to be exposed to all kinds of opera to be a true fan. I'm glad I experienced this work, although I don't think I would want to see it again.

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