Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dialogues of the Carmelites

It will take a long time to get it out of my head. The sickening sound of the metallic clank that accompanies each chop of the guillotine as all the little nuns are beheaded at the end of Poulenc's gorgeous opera Dialogues of the Carmelites, that is. I went last night to see it performed (beautifully!) by Austin Lyric Opera. I could only afford a third balcony seat, but the acoustics were marvelous even there and I do have those mother-of-pear folding opera glasses.

The first time I was exposed to DotC it was twenty some-odd years ago on the radio -- probably one of those weekend broadcasts from the Met. I had been cleaning house and not paying very close attention until the middle of the third act and I still remember how the sound of the chops of the guillotine triggered actual dry heaves in me that first time. I find this work so incredibly powerful and I read it on so many levels.

There's, first, the primarily female cast; rare in opera. The men are the throw-aways in this one. There's the mothers and daughters motif, although they are nuns and spiritual sisters. I can put some feminist reads into it, and a would-be lesbian love-at-first-sight story. There are the existential issues of freedom and transcendence. To me, DotC is less about religion and more about fear, and about the fear of fear. I know those are probably not the things Polenc wanted me to ponder, but I'm a post-modernist and I can't help it.

And there's one of the greatest lines in opera: to paraphrase, "She got somebody else's death, as one might mistakenly be handed someone else's coat in the cloak room."

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