Near the beginning of Act 2 Mother Marie of the Incarnation encourages all of the women of the community to agree to take an oath of martyrdom. There is some talking the circumstances and the fear that has gripped France. One of the nuns makes the comment that fear is contagious just like pneumonia or cholera. She is right! We see this in our own time in profound and terrifying ways. An epidemic of fear had gripped France in the late 18th century and fanned and exploited by some brought death and misery to many. Fanned and exploited in our own times, by those who we look to be our leaders, fear is an epidemic in our own time and is leading to more and more cowardly violence and terror - and I am not talking about foreign terror - we have our own home-grown terror right here that is racist, misogynist and hateful. This opera, The Dialogues of the Carmelites by Francis Poulenc is in many ways a meditation on fear and I think is very timely. Will we allow ourselves to be ruled by fear and to be controlled by the fear-mongers who want to divide people by building walls, who want to deport all of those "other" people who they determine are not like us; who constantly incite violence; who want to enrich themselves and their wealthy friends and donors at the expense of the poor and working class. Fear was an epidemic and it led to the terror of the French Revolution and fear is an epidemic that has increased the terror in our own times. Shall we hide like Blanche de la Force? Or confront it with courage?
There is little I can say about this production and the performance. It is one of the great productions and performances of the Met. From 1987 it is available to stream on metopera.org - find the link for their Met-On-Demand service. The performance stars Maria Ewing as Blanche; the incomparable Regine Crespin as Madame de Croissy; Betsy Norden as Sister Constance; the magnificent Jesse Norman as Madame Lidoine and a magnificent performance by Florence Quiver as Mother Marie of the Incarnation. This is opera at its best. The John Dexter production is very powerful and I found myself in tears throughout the performance, especially during the powerful and moving conclusion. This performance is one that should not be missed. It is sung in English, in accordance with Poulenc's specific wishes that the opera always be sung in the language of the audience.
I had a few technical problems with the stream, but they were minor after I restarted my laptop. There is no way to alter the resolution which is too bad and it is also a shame that the Met does not include a complete cast list on the page. There were some outstanding performances in small roles and I would like to know who was singing. But this is a masterpiece - one of the great operas of the 20th century and this production and performance is also a masterpiece. Here is a taste - Jesse Norman in her last scene with the sisters as they wait in prison for their execution.
2 years ago