Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Arthaus Musik
WORKS: Dialogues des Carmélites
PERFORMER: Nikolai Schukoff, Kathryn Harries, Anne Schwanewilms, Gabriele Schnaut, Jana Büchner; Hamburg State Opera Chorus; Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young; dir. Nikolaus Lehnhoff (Hamburg, 2008)


It is hard to think of an operatic ending more devastating than Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. The nuns singing the Salve Regina as the guillotine extinguishes their voices one by one is beautifully and brutally effective at conveying the true meaning of martyrdom rather than the distortions of recent years.

Dialogues eschews the traditional operatic fare of love affairs and crimes. Rather, fear is the leitmotif, personified in the central character, Blanche, who becomes a novice to escape the world, only to discover that providence has other plans for her.

Like Robert Carsen’s outstanding 2004 Milan production (TDK), Nikolaus Lehnhoff takes a relatively minimalist approach for the Hamburg State Opera. The principals are generally strong. Kathryn Harries is moving as the dying Madame de Croissy, a disturbing variant on a traditional mad scene.

Laura Aikin is effective as the gregarious Sister Constance and Gabriele Schnaut captures the frustrations of Mere Marie. But while Alexia Voulgaridou has a fine voice, she struggles to convince as the timid, young Blanche. Her performance may have satisfied the opera house, but on film she looks and sounds too knowing, making it difficult to suspend disbelief. 


Simone Young draws some marvellous textures from the orchestra, while not quite matching Muti’s pacing in Milan. Picture quality is excellent in Blu-ray, but a little less crisp on DVD. The surround sound is natural, though the balance is not ideal in the final scene – not that this prevents the tears from welling-up. Christopher Dingle