Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites
LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
WORKS: Dialogues des Carmélites
PERFORMER: Alain Vernhes, Susan Gritton, Bernard Richter, Sylvie Brunet, Soile Isokoski, Susanne Resmark, Hélène Guilmette, Heike Grötzinger, Anaïk Morel; Bavarian State Opera Orchestra & Chorus/Kent Nagano; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Munich, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: Bel Air Classiques BAC 061 (NTSC system; 5.1 dolby digital; 16:9 picture format)
Oh dear. Something must clearly be wrong for this to get a solitary star (and a generous one at that). Well, the problem certainly is not with conductor Kent Nagano, who has had this sublime work in his repertoire for many years, nor is it with the Bavarian State Orchestra, who play the score extremely well. Nor are there any weaknesses in the cast, who in another setting would attract five stars.
That leaves the production. Even here, much of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s staging provides an interesting slant on Poulenc’s masterpiece. Set in the modern day, the nuns are essentially portrayed as belonging more to a fundamentalist sect of outsiders from society, on an inevitable path to a Waco-style conclusion rather than being the reluctant victims of state persecution and intolerance. Leaving aside that this turns the meaning of Poulenc’s most personal, heartfelt work on its head in a fashion the composer would surely have found abhorrent, it is the resulting treatment of the final scene that makes this production a complete travesty, a prime example of the worst kind of directorial self-indulgence.
The nuns have boarded themselves up in their hut and, rather than being executed by the state, are gassing themselves. Blanche breaks in to rescue them one by one, but, having done so, herself dies when the gas explodes. Alongside this dramatic re-imagining, the music is also rearranged. The nuns themselves do not sing, the scene as presented is implausible and, all the while, the sound of the guillotine can be heard in the orchestra yet is completely ignored on stage. One of the most harrowingly moving conclusions of any opera has been turned into emotionless farce. Christopher Dingle