SF Opera's Dialogues of the Carmelites
October 22, 2022
* Notes *
Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites (Act II pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last weekend after an absence of forty years on the War Memorial stage. The stark production from Olivier Py that features a lot of flat cut outs, shadows, and chalk was moving. The music and singing were all very strong.
During last night's performance, the playing from the orchestra was lush and beautiful. Maestra Eun Sun Kim seemed in full control of the musicians, and I enjoyed watching and hearing them all. The woodwinds were particularly great, especially the English horn player Alix DiThomas, who had a solo in Act I. I've only heard this opera one time before, and the thing about it that I remember best is the guillotine sound effect at the end, which was achieved here using a saber box and played by the percussionist Victor Avdienko backstage.
There are a lot of voices in this opera, 24 principals and 38 offstage choristers. They sang well together, and that last scene was viscerally effective. The main singers are sopranos, and they all were quite distinct, which is a feat in casting. Soprano Deanna Breiwick was impressive as Sister Constance, her twittery but incisive sound was convincing. I liked hearing former Adler soprano Melody Moore as Sister Marie, her voice is creamy but powerful. Soprano Michaela Schuster has some dark tones as the old prioress Madame de Croissy and was pretty terrifying in her death scene. Soprano Michelle Bradley as the new prioress Madame Lidoine was likewise strong, very warm and poignant when she sings in Act III as she joins her sisters in a vow of martyrdom. Finally, soprano Heidi Stober seemed to embody Blanche de la Force quite perfectly, her textured, tinselly sound channeled the character's anxiety which made her transformation at the end all the more striking.
The staging, first seen at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in 2013 and then at La Monnaie / De Munt in 2017, was directed here by Daniel Izzo. It has a stripped down quality to it, lots of grey and white. The play of light and shadow was pleasing. I liked the four tableaux the nuns depicted with flat cut out props: The Annunciation, The Nativity, The Last Supper, and The Crucifixion. The death scene of Madame de Croissy (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) was depicted on the wall, as if one was looking down into the room, and this was disturbing and very much in keeping with the events that unfold.
* Tattling *
There were quite a lot of people at the performance, which was heartening. The orchestra level looked almost full. I was surprised that the two other people in Box X abandoned the performance at intermission, and was chagrined that the pair in Box Y returned late. For some reason the latter couple found the end of Act II hilarious and laughed loudly when poor Blanche drops and breaks Baby Jesus. I myself was raised in a very different religion than Catholicism, but can still empathize with this frightened young nun. But perhaps they were just nervous for her and the emotion came out as laughter. They did applaud a great deal for the performance at the ovation.