Sylvie Brunet Excels in Dialogues des Carmelites

SpainSpain F. Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmelites, Orchestra Bordeaux Aquitaine, Chorus Opera Bordeaux, Nader Abassi (conductor), Bordeaux Grand Thèàtre, 10.2.2012(JMI)


Blanche de la Force: Sophie Marin-Degor
Mère Marie: Geraldine Chauvet
Madame de Croissy: Sylvie Brunet
Madame de Lidoine: Cecile Perrin
Soeur Constance: Hélène Le Corre
Marquis de la Force: Jean-Manuel Candenot
Chevalier de la Force: Xavier Mas
L’Aumônier: Eric Huchet
Le Geôlier: Frédéric Gonçalves
Mère Jeanne: Claire Larcher
Soeur Mathilde: Marie-Valérie Bry

New Production in coproduction Opera Angers-Nantes

Direction: Mireille Delunsch
Sets and Costumes: Rudy Sabounghi
Lighting: Dominique Borrini


Dialogues des Carmelites  Photo: Frédéric Desmesure
Dialogues des Carmelites
Photo: Frédéric Desmesure

2013 is a special year for musical celebrations. On top of being the bicentennial of the birth of both Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, it is also the 100th birthday of Benjamin Britten. To this we should add the 50th anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc, which obviously has not gone unnoticed in France. A couple of weeks ago Dialogues des Carmelites was given at Toulon, and now it’s the turn of Bordeaux.

I confess that I love this opera, which I find a true gem, and I’m glad I attended this performance, as the whole production was more than satisfactory.

Mireille Delunsch has frequently sung in Bordeaux, where her artistry has always been clear whether or not her voice was always wholly suitable to the roles she took on. This was her debut as a director and the results were very positive.

Few operas are so difficult to transpose to another era as Tosca and the Carmelites. The time is very precise in both librettos, as is the location. Mireille Delusch makes no changes of this kind, using instead a minimalist production, which focuses all our attention on the characters and their experiences.

The set has only a brick wall at the back, but makes good use of props – including the guillotine in the final scene – and this allows fast scene changes.

Worth mentioning is the excellent lighting work, which becomes a true protagonist on stage.

The stage direction by Mireille Delunsch is good, perfectly outlining the essence of all the characters, from the fears and insecurities of Blanche de la Force, to the surprising rebellion of Madame de Croissy on facing her death, through the great humanity of Madame de Lidoine or the authoritarian Mère Marie and the captivating simplicity of Sister Constance.

The final scene is very well resolved, providing the only splash of originality of the whole production by bringing on the people who attend the execution in modern costumes, surely meaning that the silent majority is always present at the great events of history and that they witness without intervening, so that atrocities can take place because of their/our passivity.

The musical direction was entrusted to Nader Abassi, whose has often worked with the Marseille Opera over the last few years. His reading was very good in general, although there were times when the orchestral volume was a little unbalanced and compromised the voices. Saving those moments, particularly in the first act, his reading was careful and delicate, and got a good performance from the orchestra.

Blanche de la Force is the main protagonist of the opera and the role was performed by soprano Sophie Marin-Degor, whom I had the opportunity to see in the same part some four years ago. Her stage performance has improved and she is now much more convincing as an actress, although vocally she is rather short in her low notes, with a center which is not of great quality.

Geraldine Chauvet offered the most important voice in the entire cast as Mère Marie. Her timbre is attractive in the middle range, with the top rather tight.

Sylvie Brunet has found in Madame de Croissy her finest role, and is quite moving in her death scene. Many times this character is given to a decaying old glory, but this is not the case with Sylvie Brunet, who has a healthy voice and who identifies well with the character of the first prioress.

Cecile Perrin was a compelling and very human Madame de Lidoine on stage but was more problematic, as usual, in vocal terms. Her voice is not very attractive, but she knows how to handle it.

Helene Le Corre was well suited to the role of Sister Constance, though her voice is really too tiny. In a larger house she would be almost inaudible.

In the supporting cast Jean-Manuel Candenot was a very weak Marquis de la Force in vocal terms. Xavier Mas was good as Chevalier de la Force, using mostly falsetto for the high notes. Eric Huchet was a good Chaplain, while both Claire Larcher (Mère Jeanne) and Marie-Valerie Bry (Sister Mathilde) were good.

There was a full house. The audience was warm towards all the artists, but reserved the biggest cheers for Sylvie Brunet.

José Mª Irurzun