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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 2020.

In this installment of our Introducing… series we take a look at Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, which makes its Glyndebourne premiere at Festival 2020.

In the video below, our resident opera expert, Alexandra Coghlan, explores the real life events that inspired Poulenc, talks to the Glyndebourne Chorus about what it’s like to work with director Barrie Kosky, and takes an in-depth look at the opera’s unforgettable final scenes.

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

Barrie Kosky in rehearsals for the revival of Saul. Photo: James Bellorini

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.

In the video above Alexandra talks to members of the Glyndebourne Chorus about Kosky’s unique directing style.

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.

Watch the video to see Alexandra’s detailed breakdown of this scene, where she explores how Poulenc’s score creates such an emotive and poignant moment.

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 Danielle de Niese as Blanche. Her most recent role at the Festival was the title role in 2019’s Cendrillon. 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 Geneviève in 2018’s Pelléas et Mélisande, as Mère Marie.

Danielle de Niese on Dialogues des Carmélites

Supported by
Carol and Paul Collins through Glyndebourne Association America Inc.
and a Syndicate and Circle of Individuals

Deepen your relationship with Glyndebourne. Find out more about supporting Festival 2020.


Image credits: Pelléas et Mélisande and Cendrillon, photos: Richard Hubert Smith | Le nozze di Figaro, photos: Robbie Jack

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