Dialogues des Carmélites, nun too easy

Vienna is currently awash in Easter-tangential operas. I’m going to Faust and Parsifal this weekend. But first: Poulenc’s Dialogues des carmélites is probably the most appropriate of the lot for the meaning of Easter as I understand it. The Theater an der Wien’s production is very worth seeing, though more for dramatic than musical reasons.

Sorry, I mean you can read my review of this production here at Bachtrack.

But I have a few more things to say here. Namely, how this is a great and moving opera, so I wrote about it as such. Most operas would kill to have one scene as theatrically effective as the Old Prioress’s death at the end of Act 1 and the final scene of the opera, and Dialogues has them both. And the characterization really is wonderful. I found this performance uninspiring musically, largely due to Bertrand de Billy’s functional conducting. But the Personenregie here is great. It’s also that rare Robert Carsen production that features neither a giant bed nor a herd of straight-backed chairs.

You can feel the but coming, and here it is. I have serious, irreconcilable problems with this piece. I don’t think dying for religious faith is at all a noble or admirable act. I’m not a religious person but I can even less see myself believing in any god who would demand that of adherents. Much of what makes Dialogues and made this performance of it in particular so good is the very human sense of self-doubt and uncertainty the nuns feel. They aren’t perfect saints. But ultimately they are heroines because they sign up for martyrdom, and that is the message of the piece. It’s a much stronger message than those of less serious or single-minded operas, and it feels correspondingly harder for me to ignore despite the work’s obvious strengths. It’s far too persuasive musically and dramatically for me to not be moved while I’m seeing it, but I feel deeply ambivalent about it in the end.

You know what I’m going to say next, which is that Regietheater has another answer. Yes, and I want to go there. Dmitri Tcherniakov’s fascinating-sounding Munich production of this opera has recently been released on DVD. You can read about this production on Opera Cake. I hope to watch it soon and will write about it if I have something to say.

Another (presumably) Regie Dialogues will be premiering this summer at the Komische Oper Berlin, directed by Calixto Bieito. This is an interesting prospect. If all goes as planned I will see it in July.

Here is the end of Act 1 in the Carsen production that I wrote about (in the La Scala video, different cast):

Here is the trailer for Tcherniakov’s production:

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