Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts this seventh Met revival of John Dexter’s starkly beautiful 1977 production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, and the comeback is magnificent.
David Reppa’s uncommonly spare yet richly evocative set exemplifies minimalism at its best. A raked stage in the form of a huge cross – at various times representing the library of an eighteenth-century mansion, the workroom of a convent, an infirmary, a chapel, a prison, and finally the Place de la Révolution – constitutes the performance space. A gigantic cross hanging at the rear of the stage is a powerful symbol and constant reminder of the opera’s spiritual message.
David Kneuss has done a splendid job of recreating the production’s iconic moments, such as the intensely dramatic opening scene with nuns lying prostrate on the cruciform stage, and adding some touches including a soldier ogling the Sisters as they stand at attention to hear of their expulsion from the convent; the acting is superb.
As Madame de Croissy, the prioress whose agonizing death dominates the first Act, Karita Mattila literally throws herself into the character, her body writhing in pain from her first appearance. When the nun finally loses control, she gives full vent to her still-forceful dramatic soprano. As Blanche, the fearful aristocrat who joins the Carmelites to find peace of mind and later shares their martyrdom, Isabel Leonard is vocally radiant and her acting displays an appropriately touching vulnerability. The other excellent principals are joined by an impressive cast of singers; together they produce a strong sense of dramatic and musical ensemble.
The Met Orchestra fulfills every expectation in the emotional libretto and score – sometimes surprisingly sweet, but more often conveying a devastating inevitability. From the abrupt opening to the arresting music at the end, with the nuns’ singing ‘Salve Regina’ while walking one by one to the guillotine – here rendered as effectively cathartic – the thrilling drama casts its spell and makes for something truly outstanding.
- HD preview
- Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday May 11 at 6.30 p.m. (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)