Introducing… Dialogues des Carmélites
In this installment of our Introducing… series we take a look at Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, which makes its Glyndebourne premiere at Festival 2023.
Once heard, this moving opera is never forgotten. And it only takes one listen to turn a sceptic into a passionate believer. In the video below, Barrie Kosky tells us about his plans for the production…
A brief introduction
One of the most devastatingly powerful operas in the repertoire, a compelling portrait of faith, fate and human endurance, Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (1957) is all the more astonishing because it is the composer’s only full-length opera. It’s the achievement of a supremely gifted song composer who, after a 40-year apprenticeship, finally used his skills to paint a larger dramatic canvas.
Based on a true story, the tragedy of Poulenc’s Carmélites is both a widescreen historical and political tragedy, and an intimate psychological exploration of faith. There’s both grandeur and austerity, impact and intimacy here in music that has all the melodic beauty of Poulenc’s songs, now intensified into sung drama.
Why not to miss this production
This is Glyndebourne’s first-ever production of a powerful 20th century classic. Such an intense, deeply psychological story is a perfect fit for director Barrie Kosky – in 2015 the director helmed our acclaimed production of Saul, a smash hit with audiences and critics alike.
A great moment to look out for
The final scene’s ‘Salve Regina’ is one of the most famous (infamous, even) endings in all opera. As the nuns march to face the guillotine they begin to sing a hymn – its steady, certain musical tread a contrast to the recitative-like music that dominates the opera. Underpinning the hymn is an inexorable ostinato – a repeated bassline. There is no musical escape from their fate.
The music is punctuated irregularly by blade-blows as, one by one, the women are executed. The number of voices gets smaller and smaller (the second verse is sung by only four voices), and to further ratchet up the tension each restatement of the hymn rises upwards, turning the musical screw. Only the youngest, Constance, is left to sing the closing line.
Cast and creative team
Dialogues des Carmélites will be conducted by our Music Director, Robin Ticciati, who has brought a number of notable French works to the Festival before.
Heading up the cast is Glyndebourne favourite Sally Matthews as Blanche. South African soprano Golda Schultz – last seen as the Countess in 2016’s Le nozze di Figaro – will play Madame Lidoine. They are joined by Karen Cargill, who played Brangäne in 2021’s semi-staged production of Tristan und Isolde, as Mère Marie.
Image credits: Main image by Katie Ponder | Pelléas et Mélisande, photos: Richard Hubert Smith | Rusalka, photos: Tristram Kenton | Le nozze di Figaro, photos: Robbie Jack