WORKS: Dialogues des Carmélites
PERFORMER: Petibon, Koch, Gens, Piau, Plowright, Lehtipuu, Rouillon, Piolino, Vavrille, Pondjiclis, Lécroart, Kissin, Duffau; Philharmonia; Choeur de Théatre des Champs-Elysées/Jérémie Rhorer; dir. Olivier Py (France, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 256 4622069; Blu-ray: 2564621953
Exploring the concerns of a group of nuns is not the most obvious premise for an opera, even set amid the terror of post-Revolutionary France. And yet Dialogues des Carmélites is a profoundly moving exploration of the human psyche in extremis and there is no more emotionally overwhelming conclusion in opera than the nuns’ final ‘Salve Regina’, as they go by turn to the guillotine.
Unwittingly influenced, perhaps, by traditional nuns’ habits, the trend has been for monochromatic productions with a minimalist austerity. In essence Olivier Py’s marvellous 2013 staging follows suit, but this is by far the most imaginative and effective example of that approach. For instance, during some of the introductions and interludes that usually cover scene changes for more complex sets, the nuns briefly arrange themselves into tableaux, a simple allusion to religious frescoes. The final scene may not quite match Robert Carsen’s 2004 Milan production (TDK) for devastating beauty, but, taken as a whole, this is visually by far the best recent Carmélites.
It also has a dream cast. Blanche’s inner turmoil is where the real drama resides and Patricia Petibon masterfully conveys the complexities of her contradictory character, cowering and fearful one moment, resolute and determined the next. Sandrine Piau is wonderfully bright-eyed as Constance, Rosalind Plowright is suitably disturbing in the alternate ‘mad scene’ of Madame de Croissy’s death, while Sophie Koch and Véronique Gens tellingly capture the contrasting intents of Mère Marie and Madame Lidoine. With Jérémie Rhorer’s nuanced conducting, the Philharmonia on top form and sympathetic filming, there are no weaknesses.