Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

COMPOSERS: Poulenc
LABELS: TDK
ALBUM TITLE: Poulenc
WORKS: Dialogues des Carmélites
PERFORMER: Dagmar Schellenberger, Anja Silja, Barbara Dever, Laura Aikin; Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala/Riccardo Muti; dir. Robert Carsen (Milan, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: TDK DVWW-OPDDC (NTSC system; DD 5.1; 16:9 picture ratio)
One of the pinnacles of Poulenc’s output, Dialogues des Carmélites is a supreme example of the composer’s ability to be simultaneously conventional and unconventional. This is the most earnest facet of Janus-Poulenc, producing music of heartfelt conviction for a drama exploring personal confusion amidst faith, and the response of the faithful to the ‘terror’ that followed the French Revolution. Fear is the leitmotif, crystallized in the panicky heroine Blanche, who joins an enclosed order to escape her anxieties, only to find herself in mortal danger from the Revolutionary authorities.

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Robert Carsen’s production is effective in its simplicity, allowing the drama to speak for itself. Dagmar Schellenberger compellingly conveys Blanche’s journey from distress to acceptance, the confrontation with her brother being a masterly projection of outer defiance and inner disquiet. Anja Silja’s portrayal of the old Prioress is outstanding, with its disturbing transformation from serene wisdom to terrified, blasphemous, near-madness as death approaches. Barbara Dever is a thoroughly convincing, domineering Mother Marie, and Laura Aikin’s quietly irrepressible Constance is an ideal foil for Blanche’s turmoil. Rhine Opera’s 1999 production (ArtHaus Musik) also boasts a strong cast, but the newcomer has the benefit of Riccardo Muti and the La Scala orchestra in magnificent form, captured in magnificent sound. The DVD has no frills, but this hardly matters. Ultimately, it is the final scene, with its multiple executions, that makes or breaks a production of Dialogues. Carsen’s allegorical solution is both elegant and

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deeply moving.Christopher Dingle