Cher Public

  • Camille: Oops. Too absorbed to notice my own BOLDNESS.! Sigh. I always make boo-boos. Sorry. 8:58 PM
  • Camille: Another thing, about the categorisations of the singers, from the Personaggi page in the front of the Ricordi vocal score, the... 8:56 PM
  • Camille: Well if Mo. Slatkin restored it for the ’92 performances, I wonder if it is included in that broadcast from–when was... 7:56 PM
  • Camille: Honey, she’s trying to get that guy to marry her maid Wowkle, who is already with a little baby — that’s why... 7:48 PM
  • Camille: You don’t even have to go to the library, honey, as I just now stumbled onto this valuable resource on The Girl –... 7:43 PM
  • fletcher: I took a peek at the Google Books preview of that Puccini and the Girl online and found an interesting note about a brief scene... 7:33 PM
  • manou: Of course I mean The tensions of the past and the future are probably taut — unless Minnie’s lessons go further that one... 7:31 PM
  • manou: The tensions of the past and the future are probably taut – unless Minnie’s lessons go further that one thought. 7:29 PM

Headless nuns in starless cast

“The most sensuous sounds at the Met this week come from an opera with nary a love duet. In Dialogues des Carmélites—Francis Poulenc’s 1957 melodrama about an order of nuns martyred during the French Revolution—the music’s voluptuous sweetness depicts the sisters’ intense religious faith.” [New York Post]


  • 1
    sfmike says:

    Lovely, concise review, though the cast sounds dull and I can’t stand the Dexter production. This is not so much because of its spareness but because he turns a very specifically musically written three-act opera into a two-act one, splitting the piece in two which makes no dramatic or musical sense.

    Blanche is a really tricky role since it was written for Denise Duval who wasn’t really an opera singer, more pop and cabaret, which made for a frailness on the original recording that’s very moving. In most opera houses, the part goes to the plushest sounding young sopranos around, who of course don’t sound neurasthenic for one second.

    • 1.1
      kashania says:

      I imagine you must hate an awful lot of productions if that reason is enough to dismiss Dexter’s production. The overall trend is for companies to present operas in two halves. Much as it’s admirable to preserve the natural pacing of a three-act opera with two intermissions, I’m certainly grateful when a 3-hour evening isn’t turned into a 3.5-hour evening with the addition of an intermission.

      • 1.1.1
        sfmike says:

        Sorry not to be clear about intermissions. Though I prefer a break rather than long, uninterrupted stretches at the opera, at least put a break where one belongs. In the Dexter production of Dialogues which I saw long ago in San Francisco, the intermission was inserted smack dab n the middle of the second act where it made no musical or dramatic sense. Also wasn’t crazy about the nuns laying down on the floor with arms outstretched seemingly every fifteen minutes. We got the decorative point.

        Saw Robert Carsen’s version at La Scala about a decade ago, which was a completely bare stage with hundreds of supernumeraries wandering the perimeter as the starving French mob. Though it was even simpler than the Dexter, it worked way better, and they didn’t have an intermission in the middle of Act Two.

          kashania says:

          Oh, I see what you mean. That makes sense, having the intermission after Act I instead of the middle of the second act. The Carsen production is opening in Toronto on Wednesday and I can’t wait!

          • MontyNostry says:

            That Carsen production is one of the best productions of any work that I have ever seen (with slight reservations about the final scene, which perhaps over-abstracts the brutality of the guillotine).

          Henry Holland says:

          The Willy Decker Die Tote Stadt that made the rounds in recent years (I saw it in San Francisco) joined the first two acts together > intermission > third act. It was problematic because it cuts out the glorious prelude to Act II (bells! celesta! more bells!), it’s 90 minutes long which is tough on the tenor who sings a lot of music in the first two acts and I get antsy sitting still for that long.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Maybe because, with the best will in the world, Die tote Stadt is not really a very good opera. The two detachable hit numbers are just glorious, but the rest of it — though entertaining and intriguing for the operaphile, and bloody amazing as the work of a teenager — somehow goes through the motions without hitting emotional or intellectual spots.

  • 2
    Buster says:

    Denise Duval was trained at the Conservatoire de Paris, and was a real opera singer. Poulenc first heard her when she was rehearsing Tosca, after she had sung at the Folies-Bergères. Poulenc thought her Folies-Bergères experiences would help her on stage as Thérèse/Tirésias:

    • 2.1
      Buster says:

    • 2.2
      armerjacquino says:

      Yep, sure sounds like an opera singer to me (in 1941, by the way, she was 20):

      “Duval made her debut as Lola in Cavalleria rusticana in Bordeaux in 1941, and was a member of the companies of the Paris Opéra and Opéra-Comique from 1947 to 1965, when she retired. She was noted for her portrayals of Debussy’s Mélisande and Massenet’s Thaïs.”

  • 3
    paddypig says:

    I ran to see CARMELITES on Saturday morning only because I fear it is the type production that Gelb, in his inifinite wisdom may dump and we will not get a chance to see it again, I have seen every revival at the MET since 1978 and have also seen two productions at Juilliard and the production in Amsterdam with the incredible Rita Gorr. Thought Felicity Palmer did a much better job than she did during the last revival, though she will never erase memories of Crespin, Gorr or even Mignon Dunn in the role. I enjoyed Racette as Madame Lidione, the role is often given second rate casting, Teresa Stratas was brillian in the role and Jesse made it her own, with her own unique style. Leona Mitchell brought vocal beauty to the role. I prefer a soprano as Blanche, Dawn Upshaw and Patricia Racette were the most interesting ones at the MET, Joan Rodgers in Amsterdam was the best I have seen. I love the opera and the Dexter production, I miss Betsey Norden as Sister Constance and Jean Kraft as Sister Jeanne, though Jane Shaulis made the role her own.

    • 3.1
      messa di voce says:

      “I fear it is the type production that Gelb, in his inifinite wisdom may dump”

      Carmelites is the same type production as the Zeff Carmen and Tosca, the Serban Faust, and the Montressor Elisir?

      • 3.1.1
        La Cieca says:

        Maybe “the type production” means “created more than a generation ago by a director who is now long dead.”

      • 3.1.2
        oedipe says:

        Last time I checked, Andrei Serban was alive and well and still belonged to the same generation as many other directors in activity today, such as Chéreau, Haneke, Willy Decker, the Alden brothers, David Pountney, Peter Konwitschny. For the life of me, I can’t see how Serban’s work can be qualified as “the same type production” as Zeffirelli.

          MontyNostry says:

          Well, the ROH is reviving Serban’s 30-year-old Turandot twice next year … Will he get royalties for that? As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, his Onegin for Welsh National Opera (1978?) was the first vaguely Regie-ish show I ever saw.

    • 3.2
      Buster says:

      That Amsterdam Dialogues was the premiere of the Robert Carsen production that is still doing the rounds at the moment. Rita Gorr was indeed fabulous in it, as was Judith Forst who sang the later run. I don’t remember a thing about Joan Rodgers, but Sheri Greenawald was particularly strong as Madame Lidoine.

    • 3.3
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      I miss Shirley Verrett singing a big broad AH on “…of a noble MAH-ster” and I miss Linda Mays in this opera and as one of the Orphans in Der Rosenkavalier ! I miss Nedda Cassei, Carlotta Ordassy and Loretta di Franco. I miss Franco! I miss Shirley Love too.

  • 4
    gerbear says:

    For years I had promised myself to see the next revival of the Dexter production of my favourite single opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites. I was thrilled to finally get the chance this year, and just before making final plans to visit New York, I discovered that Canadian Opera Company would be also be doing it this May; I was very fortunate to see the Carsen production in Chicago, also with Bayrakdarian. The chance to see Judith Forst and Adrianne Pieczonka as the Old/New Prioresses (and first time seeing both of these fabulous singers in person) was just too good to ignore, and so I will be in the audience in a couple of weeks. I’m tremendously enthused for this opportunity, and I sure hope Gelb brings back the Dexter production at least one more time as well.

  • 5
    Batty Masetto says:

    I want to tread carefully here, because I don’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings, and I realize there are those for whom traditionally defined sainthood has meaning. But considering the amount of unease that was voiced about all the Christianity in Parsifal, I’m a little surprised that nobody’s expressed any discomfort with what goes on in Carmélites.

    Poulenc’s music is wonderful, of course, but so is Wagner’s, and that doesn’t get him a free pass. So is it because the cast of Carmélites is mostly sympathetic women and the story bears an orthodox imprimatur that nobody has mentioned how deeply disturbing it is?

    A troubled, unstable young woman, apparently completely unequipped to deal with life, is shunted off to a convent, where she succumbs to peer pressure and joins a suicide pact. This is portrayed as spiritual triumph. Say what?

    • 5.1
      alejandro says:

      I was raised Catholic and I find Carmelites to be incredibly disturbing. But then again, I find nuns in general to be disturbing. I think Almodovar should mash up his Dark Habits with Carmelites. Junkie nuns who join a Doomsday cult, anyone?

    • 5.2
      messa di voce says:

      Well said, Batty.

    • 5.3
      lorenzo.venezia says:

      @Batty: I was a sophmore at Berkeley in 1963 when I saw Carmelites at SFO for the first time. I was disturbed all sorts of ways. It seemed profoundly reactionary to me; literally reactionary, as in anti-French Revolution, and, of course, I laughed at “I burned my stew” and applauded the beheadings. As I grew older I was more able to appreciate it as great art but that took a while. I don’t struggle with Wagner any more because it’s like quibbling about the Grand Canyon or the Pantheon-- the simple fact of their existence is a miracle ;-)

      • 5.3.1
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        RE: “Stew” -- They changed that line in SFO when Leontyne was in the cast as something or other. In the published translation the line is “Look here, my stew is burning… it is your fault!” I don’t think any Blanche appreciates singing “fault” on the climax of that phrase. But you’re right… it’s a giggle.

      • 5.3.2
        m. croche says:

        It seemed profoundly reactionary to me; literally reactionary, as in anti-French Revolution

        Indeed. Considering the Catholic Church’s enthusiastic endorsement of the Vichy government, Poulenc’s choice of subject seems -- how shall one put it? -- ill-timed.

          lorenzo.venezia says:

          well at least Francois wasn’t in the Coco-Gertrude-Chevalier club…

          • MontyNostry says:

            And he wasn’t beyond discreetly flipping the bird at the occupying Germans in his (quite gorgeous) ballet score Les Animaux modèles, premiered during the Occupation, which quoted an old song: “Vous n’aurez pas l’Alsace et la Lorraine”.

          • phoenix says:

            Was Poulenc supposed to hide or alter his spiritual dedication to the original Catholic faith in light of its oft-repeated destructive greedy political powergrabs over the centuries (not only during his own lifetime)? It’s hard to understand those years & at the same time very easy to point a finger at someone who survived them, but if you had not lived through it yourself you will never truly understand why what went on the way it did -- and that is my opinion, not necessarily yours.
            -- That Poulenc’s personal commitment to his faith enabled him to create what is probably the greatest French opera from the last half of the 20th century should not be ignored.
            -- La C: you and I don’t meet on musical grounds very often and this is no exception -- what you find “voluptuously sweet” I don’t. Most of the music is rather jarring and declamatory. Like Lulu, if it wasn’t for the incredibly beautiful sweep of last gasp impressionism shifting the tides in the orchestration, much of this opera would be difficult to sit through. But Poulenc was too wise to let us down.
            -- La C., might you be referring to the rather briefly sustained lyricism in the duets? -> between Mère Marie & the dying Mme. de Croissy, or between Blanche & Soeur Constance or maybe the best one: the duet between Blanche & her brother -- this whole scene has a mystical resignation to it, but I wouldn’t call it sweet. Or are you referring to the highlight of the opera, Mme. Lidoine’s last brief invocation that closes the dungeon scene? Those few incredibly joyous bars at just the right point in the opera -- overflowing with Mme. Lidoine’s ecstasy -- doesn’t actually capsulize the entire work musically (although I must admit that for me, it probably does).
            -- I saw a video of the production mentioned in this thread -> with the fanatical (whose calling the kettle black?) nuns refusing to renounce their faith & going into the gas chamber. it was entirely believable but the only Blanche I ever saw & heard that I thought was incredibly moving was the young Maria Ewing in her prime at the Met in 1977. She was mesmerizing & lived the role onstage.
            -- I am weary, old & tired -- I am not looking for an argument. I never was a devotee to any organized religion, but I was always an avid devotee of this opera.
            -- You must develop a sweet tooth, dear!


          oedipe says:

          Poulenc’s choice of subject seems — how shall one put it? — ill-timed.

          Well, not really. Considering the fact that the opera was composed at a time when Stalinism was reigning in all its gory glory, and considering the striking similarity between Stalinism and “La Terreur” (sorry if I am ruffling some established opinions about the French Revolution), the opera’s theme of pitting religious fanaticism against revolutionary fanaticism was anything BUT ill-timed.

          • m. croche says:

            Well, oedipe, I think you’ve given us the perspective of a right-wing Catholic in 1956. Not really my perspective.

            Again: Vichy. By endorsing the Vichy Government, the Catholic Church in France turned itself into perpetrators, not victims. Decades later, the Church felt the need to apologize. Poulenc’s opera was written at a time when Vichy was not discussed, when the Church in France still pretended to have a clear conscience regarding state-sponsored terror.

          • armerjacquino says:

            croche: all true. But I would say this work is great enough to transcend its circumstances.

            I think this is a personal thing: I adore CARMELITES but can’t listen to Lemnitz, for example.

          • oedipe says:

            This is useful as a reply here:

            Maybe because Anglo-Saxon cultures still like to believe that things are intrinsically black-and-white, whereas the French are more cynical and tend to see grey everywhere.

    • 5.4
      MontyNostry says:

      Batty -- is it explicitly portrayed as a spiritual triumph? That ending is a much brutal and tragic as it is (musically, at least) transcendent. My impression (and I haven’t read the libretto for a while) is that the religious arguments of the story are presented to us, but we are not necessarily expected to buy into them. I mean, we see Madame de Croissy dying in doubt and agony and we only have little Constance’s interpretation of events with her theory about ‘dying the wrong death’. Essentially, the opera makes an astonishing impact whether or not one has any religious belief, Catholic or otherwise. I am deeply cynical about any kind of organised religion, and I am always surprised by how involving and moving I find the piece. It is one of those operas that achieves some kind of alchemy.

      • 5.4.1
        MontyNostry says:

        Just had a listen to the final scene and the final notes of the opera hardly suggest a triumph (it’s not like Andrea Chenier!). It seems to remain ambiguous and questioning.

    • 5.5
      kashania says:

      I’m as irreligious as they come but I don’t find the ending of Carmélites disturbing.

      The way I see it, Blanche is an incredibly nervous and insecure woman who, through her journey in the opera, attains peace and self-assurance. She willingly joins the others at the guillotine because that’s what she wants to do. Personally, I think anyone choosing that route is an idiot but I’m not disturbed by her character’s arc. In fact, I think it’s very moving.

    • 5.6
      armerjacquino says:

      Art is protean, though. I find SUOR ANGELICA one of the most moving works in the canon, because it breaks my heart when that poor abused girl kills herself, thinking she’s going to heaven, when we all know that she’s just going to die. I guess that wasn’t what Puccini meant (although I suspect it might be) and the same applies to CARMELITES. Poulenc being a born-again will have believed that all his characters will be going to heaven; the work is great enough, and ambivalent enough, for me to be moved by all those poor women dying without my having to believe in their redemption.

      This has been in my mind at the moment as I’m currently in a production of OTHELLO. It’s so, so important to the play that Emilia dies swearing Desdemona’s chastity, because that’s what finally convinces Othello. The whole thing is about heaven and hell. Even as an atheist, once can be moved by that.

      • 5.6.1
        armerjacquino says:

        And while we’re at it- Verdi and Boito fucked up massively in making Emilia a comprimaria. She’s the most interesting character in the show by a country mile.

          MontyNostry says:

          And if they had made the part juicier, it would be cast with more expensive mezzos who might not squall their way clumsily through ‘Aprite! Aprite!’ Always bathetic at a key moment.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Imagine what Verdi could have done with “T’will out, t’will out! I peace? No, I will speak as liberal as the north. Let heaven and men and devils all, all, all cry shame against me, yet I will speak’


          • MontyNostry says:

            I can’t quote chunks of Othello so impressively … but maybe that Act II quartet would sound less precarious than it usually does. Unfortunately, Emilia is irretrievably associated in my mind with buzzsaw voices.

      • 5.6.2
        luvtennis says:

        When we all know she is just going to die????

        Sorry, I am a christian and a catholic -- if an unconventional one.

        Frankly, most humans die in fear and doubt -- fools that we are -- pining for what is inevitably taken from everyone of us. For me the greatness of the Dialogues is that we are ALL of us marching to the guillotine.

        Blanche is every single one of us.

          armerjacquino says:

          Sigh. I was replying to someone who was bothered by the overt Catholicism of the opera. The ‘we all’ was, in that context, referring to ‘all we’ atheists. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough.

          • luvtennis says:

            Not a problem. I wasn’t being a bitch. Just thought I would make my own position clear as I was coming late to the discussion.

            Does anyone know if there is a pirate of the SFO production with Crespin, Lee etc.?

          • armerjacquino says:

            Phew! I’m not sure I would have been able for a parterre debate on faith… ;-)

  • 6
    alejandro says:

    I’m going Thursday. Super excited. I saw the DVD of the Marthe Keller production with Patricia Petibon, which was nice but Anne Sophie Schmidt’s Blanche just didn’t quite mesh with me. I’ve always wanted to see the John Dexter production at the Met, but wish there was someone with the intensity of a Natalie Dessay playing Blanche. Isobel Leonard leaves me very cold.

    • 6.1
      MontyNostry says:

      Dessay was meant to sing Blanche back in 2010 in Nice, but she pulled out and was replaced by the excellent (and, more appropriately) younger Karen Vourc’h.

      • 6.1.1
        Nerva Nelli says:

        Always wondered-- how if at all does the apostrophe affect the pronunciation of “Karen Vourc’h”?

          MontyNostry says:

          I think it’s a Breton name and, as far as I know, is pronounced as if it were written ‘Vourche’, but maybe a native French speaker (manou?) could help here.

          • manou says:

            Pas du tout -- but it seems an Irishman did on this very site awhile ago:

            “Baltsamic Vinaigrette says:

            this came up last year when it was reckoned to be of Breton origin. She has Norwegian ancestry but on which side I do not know; besides, there is also a retired French footballer called Guivarc’h.

            Voork, in essence. It could lean a little towards voarke in some dialects.

            But please do not make me pronounce Guivarc’h. TV commentators used to say gwee-vark so let’s leave it at that!”

          • MontyNostry says:

            merci, manou. I misled everyone there. Ouc’h!

    • 6.2
      kashania says:

      I do like that Marthe Keller production. And I found Anne Sophie Schmidt quite moving and intense. I especially loved her in the scene when her brother visits the monastery.

      Dramatically speaking, I think Blanche is a perfect fit for Dessay. She probably would get covered by the orchestra in some passages but she’d get the character right.

  • 7
    MontyNostry says:

    Talking of ‘sensuous sounds’ in the Carmelites, that Ave verum corpus is some of the sexiest music in opera. I suppose it is body-aware …

  • 8
    WindyCityOperaman says:

    Just in case you’re curious about it . . . sans Poulenc et surtitles

  • 9
    manou says:

    Does the Post need a new sub-editor? They should know by now that JJ is not a Middle Eastern state.

  • 10
    Nerva Nelli says:

    Isn’t JJ part Middle Eastern?

  • 11
    Porgy Amor says:

    I wonder how those uncomfortable with the Poulenc opera feel (or would feel) about the Tcherniakov rethinking. He portrayed the nuns as a fanatical sect that was out of touch with the changing world, and he had Blanche realizing at the end that their irrelevant doctrines were not worth the loss of a single life. So in the final scene, she’s rushing into the gas chamber in which they’ve sealed themselves, dragging her sisters out one by one (while a roped-off crowd watches), and then she dies in an explosion at the end.

    I…do not find this preferable (or so harmonious with the score), but there are some good performances on the video version, as usual in his productions.

    • 11.1
      m. croche says:

      Porgy: I’ve only seem a video of the opera’s final tableau, but I agree with your suggestion that Cherniakov, who after all also knows his Khovanshchina, is responding to s

    • 11.2
      oedipe says:

      I wonder how those uncomfortable with the Poulenc opera feel (or would feel) about the Tcherniakov rethinking.

      This production was discussed to some extent on a previous thread. I don’t believe Tcherniakov’s main goal was to appease those who are uncomfortable with the opera, but that’s exactly what is happening: the production looks fashionably PC.

      • 11.2.1
        luvtennis says:

        I am not very familiar with the history of the opera’s creation. Perhaps Poulenc feels as Tcherniakov does and the opera is meant to be taken ironically. But for me, the overwhelming point of the opera is the transcendance that comes when we accept our fate as mortals. For me the whole backdrop of the revolution is just maguffin.

          oedipe says:

          No, the Revolution is emphatically NOT merely background, as in Hollywood movie scripts.

          A central theme in Carmélites is that of “Liberté”. In this respect, the libretto fits in a long tradition of French intellectual history. Poulenc and Bernanos approach the notion of freedom on multiple -interrelated- levels: collective versus personal freedoms, religious freedom, freedom of choice and ontological freedom when faced with one’s own death. In a most dramatic and disturbing manner, diametrically opposed views of freedom are pitted against each other: the revolutionaries’ versus the Church’s views, the lay versus the religious views, the diverging beliefs of the nuns.

          There is a short dialogue in the Bernanos Carmélites movie script that illustrates perfectly the opposing views of freedom. When the nuns are accused of “scheming against the Republic” and sentenced to death, the “Commissaire du comité révolutionnaire” justifies the death sentence with these words: “Il n’y a pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la Liberté.” To which Mère Marie replies: “La nôtre est hors de vos atteintes.”

          This specific exchange of words does not appear in the libretto, but the notion of freedom is often touched upon.

          (The slogan “Il n’y a pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la Liberté” was used by Saint-Just during the period known as “La Terreur”, with disastrous consequences for personal freedoms.)

          As for irony, I think Poulenc and Bernanos are being cynical rather than ironic in the libretto. Thus La Prieuré, upon dying, expresses her doubt and despair by exclaiming: “Que suis-je a? cette heure, moi mise?rable, pour m’inquie?ter de Lui? Qu’il s’inquie?te donc d’abord de moi!” The Bernanos movie script is even more cynical and terrifying at this moment: “J’ai médité sur la mort chaque heure de ma vie, et cela ne me sert maintenant de rien!”

          • oedipe says:

            (Pdf diacritics fail!):

            “Que suis-je à cette heure, moi misérable, pour m’inquiéter de Lui? Qu’il s’inquiète donc d’abord de moi!”

  • 12
    MontyNostry says:

    Tony T’s review of the Dialogues. His stuff does read like a student essay. And I don’t think Bernanos ever made a play of the story …

    • 12.1
      rapt says:

      Andrew Porter writes that Bernanos wrote a movie script for it, published in 1949, and staged as a play in 1951.

    • 12.2
      Hippolyte says:

      According to Mr. Tomassini, “The excellent young American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop is a vocally lustrous and moving Mother Marie.”

      Since Ms. Bishop was a National Council Auditions Winner in 1993, I suspect she must be at least in her mid- to late-40s, so I’m sure she was pleased to learn she is still considered “young” by The New York Times.

      • 12.2.1
        ianw2 says:

        I’m usually TT’s only defender in these parts but that… that is amazing.

          MontyNostry says:

          Maybe, for TT, ‘young’ = ‘I haven’t heard of her before’.

    • 12.3
      manou says:

      “Bernanos avait été chargé de composer les dialogues d’un scénario cinématographique, lui-même tiré de la célèbre nouvelle de Gertrud von Le Fort, “La Dernière à l’échafaud”, ayant pour thème la marche au martyre de seize carmélites de Compiègne qui furent guillotinées en place de Grève le 17 juillet 1794. Mais l’œuvre de Bernanos est profondément différente du récit allemand. Ne serait-ce que parce que Bernanos se trouvait lui-même à la veille de sa propre mort. Le texte complet des Dialogues a été retrouvé parmi les manuscrits de Bernanos et publié dès 1949 par Albert Béguin.”

  • 13
    Will says:

    Quoth Mr. Tommassini:
    Constance, terrified, is last to go. But Blanche, who had been hiding, working as a servant, joins her in sisterly solidarity as both go to the guillotine. So Constance was right: someone — herself — does have an easier death than she had feared.

    Have I missed the point all these years? — is it not Blanch, terrified by life and in flight from the convent when it falls into the Revolution’s net, the one who cannot face death easily but goes serenely at the end due to the Old Prioress’ difficult death?

    Also, yes, the Bernanos was a screenplay that was eventually filmed some years after the opera’s premiere with Alida Valli as Lidoine and Danielle Darrieux as the Old Prioress. The fascinating difference between Poulenc and Bernanos is that in the latter it is Lidoine who is the last to die, having seen Blanche in the crowd and embraced her as she comes forward to die with the other nuns. The movie is available complete in something like 11 chunks on YouTube.

    • 13.1
      Will says:

      Correction, Madeleine Renaud as the Old Prioress, and Jeanne Moreau as Mere Marie.

  • 14
    Batty Masetto says:

    OK, bear with me here, because this is a bit tricky to put into words.

    Since both Bernanos and Poulenc were pretty explicit in their opposition to Vichy, I can’t pin quite that kind of reactionary tag on either of them. But there’s something else along not-unrelated lines that does bother me.

    Let’s do a thought experiment, a bit of biographical fiction. Imagine you’re little Francis Poulenc, very musical and very gay. Your ma is a musician and your daddy is an intensely devout Catholic. So you ingest music and Catholicism – with its big dollops of negativity about sex in general and faggots in particular – almost from the cradle. (Who knows, maybe you even benefited from a little “personal instruction” from the local priest.)

    You go on to have a brilliant (and flamboyant) career. You are out, but are you proud? Or just defiant? You age. The deaths of friends traumatize you. You have a religious conversion experience of some kind that can only exacerbate your unease with yourself.

    Then you come across a text by arch-Catholic Georges Bernanos – written partly to exorcise his fear of his own impending death and his sense of shame at having abandoned France during her time of trial. It attracts you like a magnet. It speaks so clearly to you. It speaks to your fear, not just of death, but of that nameless thing, that shame, that horror, that buggery, and the eternal damnation it will inevitably bring down on you.

    And just as the scenario-play was a way for Bernanos to address his fear, composing the opera is a way for you to do something about your own hidden fear: your fear of that part of yourself that will send you to hell, and of the punishment that awaits you there.

    So you expiate through Blanche – but ya are Blanche. You trace how her unnameable fear leads her into a same-sex environment (safely sexless!), where Mère Marie opens the door to a redemption. With her help you follow the path. You and your “sisters” choose death, the death of the body, yes, but also the death of that part you hate, and by doing this extreme penance, you get right again with God and save your soul.

    So Blanche – sweet, dizzy, scared, gay, eternally closeted Blanche – dies as a sacrifice to the Great God Homophobia.

    But here’s the other thing: Blanche and the nuns are also a same-sex community that chooses to die rather than be forced to pass for someone they’re not.

    Ambivalence, anyone?

    • 14.1
      papopera says:

      no ! again a lot of blablablablablabla………

    • 14.2
      luvtennis says:

      You had me up the part about same sex environment. Insightful, very apt, but then you lost me with the sexual subtext. I don’t feel it in the text and I think it trivializes the artist to suggest that this profound statement about mortality is simple autobiograpy. Poulenc is NOT Tennessee Williams.

      • 14.2.1
        Batty Masetto says:

        Not remotely saying that this is only what’s there -- just that it’s there, too.

          Batty Masetto says:

          Hey, PS -- you think Tennessee Williams is only about autobiography?????

    • 14.3
      The_Kid says:

      What a wonderful idea for a regie production, Batty. Wow. Just….wow. Also, thankfully free from Nazis and nude, decapitated cadavers.

  • 15
    MontyNostry says:

    Kozena (Blanche next year at ROH) joins Gheorghiu (!) for a photo at BBC Radio 3.

    • 15.1
      messa di voce says:

      Gheorghiu will be making her role debut as Madame de Croissy.

      • 15.1.1
        MontyNostry says:

        Maybe she will rather be simpering as Constance. Actually, she could make a good Madame Lidoine if she were prepared to be a co-diva.

          oedipe says:

          Maybe Gheorghiu can give Kozena some advice about keeping up her spirits and staying young.

          • la vociaccia says:

            I think I just spent three minutes with my head tilted to the left. Wow….lucky her..

          • Hippolyte says:

            Gheorghiu has a “history” with the man in the photo: Romanian countertenor Florin Cezar Ouatu who is in the Eurovision Song Contest with a particularly horrifying entry:

            He serenaded Gheorghiu on television:

    • 15.2
      doktorlehar says:

      Wow. Since when did Kozena turn into Leonie Rysanek circa 1992?

      And as for Gheorghiu …. ?

    • 15.3
      peter says:

      Gheorghiu almost cancelled the photo session.

    • 15.4
  • 16
    MontyNostry says:

    A propos of nothing at all in particular, look at this superb cover design for an old recording of Lohengrin

    • 16.1
      Batty Masetto says:

      That’s exactly how I’ve always imagined Lohengrin would look!

    • 16.2
      Camille says:

      They just don’ t make Grosser Querschnitts the way they used to!

  • 17
    MontyNostry says:

    Funny, I thought it was Telramund.

  • 18
    LittleMasterMiles says:

    The Poulenc is about to start on the live stream as we speak (well, as I type), and La Casa della Cieca is EMPTY! Where is everyone?

    • 18.1
      laddie says:

      Get thee to a chattery!

    • 18.2
      alejandro says:

      I was there last night and it was really great. I thought everyone bought the goods vocally, but boy am I still stumped on what the big deal with Isobel Leonard is. She has a nice voice, but I just felt (like I did with her Zerlina) that’s there’s no there there. Palmer, Racette and Bishop had this “something” that made you sit up in your seat and really listen and watch them. Whereas Leonard, for all the beauty of her voice, just left me cold. Blanche’s inner struggle was 100 miles away for me last night.