Photo:Laurent Guizard / Opéra de Rennes
The Opéra de Rennes team quite obviously are not afraid of a challenge and do really care about making good music available to more people. This production of Francis Poulenc’s difficult work is another confirmation: the piano version will be touring Brittany and smaller venues where there is no room for an orchestra – and it is stunning ! Eric Chevalier’s staging is austere and very simple: a room with blackboard walls is his only set, a few chairs, a bed, a few very simple props, that is all it takes. His costumes are just as simple: the girls are wearing normal street clothing, 40s style, only their veils unify and identify them as nuns. Light projections, with clear and sober lines, sometimes lighten and identify the set. The story has been condensed and shortened and is now concerned only with life at the Carmel, the Prior’s death (incarnated with sobriety and conviction by Martine Surais) and the martyrdom of the Carmelites. This way, cutting right to the essential, one understands better the fascination of this austere work: When following Blanche de la Force’s way, everyone can confront themselves with their own questions and fears. In times like these, when totalitarianism is gaining way everywhere, they may be more justified than ever… Gildas Pungier conducts the choir of the Opéra de Rennes, the pianist Colette Diard and an excellent cast of singers with his usual sensitivity and energy. Without the orchestra, the dialogues acquire a terrible intimacy and the pianist accompanies them very attentively and delicately. Thus, the young and pure voices of Blandine Arnould, as Blanche de la Force and of Violaine le Chenadec as Soeur Constance, can express themselves pianissimo if necessary and are deeply, breathtakingly, touching. The public’s reactions are often a merciless indicator of an empty, slipshod or routine performance. Tonight in Rennes, the public is immobile and concentrated, following the terrible story to the very end. At the finale, a threatening individual, a cross between a butcher and highway gangster, armed with a terrible knife, comes on stage and stands in front of the Carmelites. They pass him by, one by one, or in little groups, and get off stage. A big hard noise is heard from beyond, the guillotine blade. Without the orchestra, the nuns’ Salve Regina, and its slow fading away into one single voice, is particularly poignant. When it has died away, there are a few seconds of deep silence, before the much-deserved applause can set in.