So I’m sitting on the couch hoping someone comes along to mow my lawn when The Wife comes to me and says
“Go put your suit on.”
“What? You assured me there was no Henry VI.”
“Shakespeare season is over. Opera season continues.”
“Stow that sarcasm in a sock, mister. Unless you’d rather stay here and mow the lawn.”
And so it was that I made my third trek in four weeks to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the third of four productions in the 2014 season of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Friday night’s performance was “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” Francis Poulenc’s 1956 opera based on true events involving a Carmelite convent during the French Revolution.
Now I know what you’re thinking — Dialogues of the Carmelites? That must be the most boring opera ever. Is it just two hours of people talking about religion?”
Actually, it’s three hours. And I initially shared your disdain until I read the synopsis in the program. This turned out to be the most interesting and compelling of the shows we’ve seen this season. The title is still a problem. I think Poulenc would get a lot more butts in the seats if he’d named it “Nuns at the Guillotine.”
See — Nuns at the Guillotine. You want to see that opera, don’t you?
The story opens in Paris in 1789. Blanche de la Force (Kelly Kaduce), uneasy with life in the aristocracy, decides to leave her home to join the Carmelite order. She finds some measure of peace there until outside forces — namely the Revolutionary regime — expel the sisters from the convent under the charge that they are Royalist sympathizers.
The sisters take a vow of martyrdom but Blanche runs away for home, only to find her father dead and her house taken over by revolutionaries. Blanche disguises herself as a servant and ultimately must decide if she will remain in hiding or rejoin her sisters and share their fate.
Pretty heady stuff. Especially following “The Elixir of Love” and “The Magic Flute.”
I guess I prefer tragedy in my opera as I found “DotC” to be the best show of the season (so far). The staging was stark and effective. The costumes were elaborate — aside from the nuns’ outfits but whatcha gonna do? The story was absorbing and the three-hour running time went by quickly. I didn’t nod off once, something I can’t say for some other shows I’ve seen.
The actors were all fine as was the music and singing. The music especially shined when all the women were singing in unison. The final scene was cleverly staged and moving.
Dialogues of the Carmelites continues June 22, 26 and 28. http://www.opera-stl.org/