Photo: Jef Rabillon
At a time where the grand religious works of occidental music have come to be regarded as just another form of entertainment, it is maybe unavoidable and fitting that it should be an opera that brings us spiritual experience, this reflection about life and death and the sense of life. Dialogues des Carmélites is not about love and jealousy, and neither about glory and fighting for king and country. Its heroine is a timid young girl, Blanche de la Force. To escape her pathological fear of life and people, she joins the nuns of the Compiègne Carmel. Under the Revolution, her sisters are imprisoned and sentenced to death. She first flies into her father’s deserted house, and finally goes to the guillotine with her sisters. For this new production of Angers Nantes Opera and Opéra de Bordeaux, Mireille Delunsch situates her staging in the historic context of the original story, with beautiful and easily identifiable decorations, costumes and props (Rudy Sabounghi): huge mirrors and candelabra in the De la Force House, a refectory table, ironing irons, wooden buckets and floor mops at the Carmel, where the refectory table will also become the deathbed of the Mother Superior. Splendid lighting (Dominique Borrini) underlines and reinforces their intentions. When singers undertake to stage an opera, the public can be assured that their colleagues onstage will be treated with respect, and will not be forced into sportive feats while singing. Mireille Delunsch is no exception and we are grateful for this. The Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, conducted by Jacques Lacombe, are interpreting Francis Poulenc’s rich and deep and deeply religious music in a wonderfully detailed way, colourful and nuanced. They make it easy to follow these complicated dialogues. Anne-Catherine Gillet plays and sings Blanche de la Force. Her light and full voice soars effortlessly into those dangerous sudden high notes which the work contains quite a number of and transmits all the depth of her character’s feelings. Sophie Junker is equally admirable, agile and spirited soprano, playing Soeur Constance. Stanislas de Barbeyrac, tenor, is a convincing Chevalier de la Force, between brotherly tenderness and combative rigor. Doris Lamprecht, mezzo-soprano, plays the agony of the Mother Superior with such abandon that she seems at certain moments to lose her voice, and Hedwig Fassbaender, warm mezzo-soprano, is a loving and lovable Mère Marie. For the grand finale, the nuns’ martyrdom under the guillotine, Mireille Delunsch has decided to show the horrible instrument on the stage, before it is pushed to the side. The girls disappear one by one, we hear the sound of the blade, and to the rhythm of death approaching inexorably, the Carmelites’ file advances, their song becomes thinner and thinner, Blanche appears and goes last, until the final thud. A few orchestral bars to ease the shock, the curtain falls and the applause is well merited by all. And we go home, a bit shaken and richer by one experience.