Glyndebourne Opera’s Dialogue of the Carmelites stuns at the BBC Proms 

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Prom 31 – Poulenc, Dialogues des Carmélites: Soloists, Chorus of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Robin Ticciati (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, 7.8.2023. (JR)

Katarina Dalayman (Madame de Croissy) © Sisi Burn

Blanche de la Force – Sally Matthews
Madame de Croissy (Old Prioress) – Katarina Dalayman
Madame Lidoine (New Prioress) – Golda Schultz
Mother Marie of the Incarnation – Karen Cargill
Sister Constance of St. Denis – Florie Valquette
Mother Jeanne of the Child Jesus – Fiona Kimm
Marquis de la Force – Paul Gay
Chevalier de la Force – Valentin Thill
Father Confessor – Vincent Ordonneau
Jailer – Theodore Platt
Thierry – Jamie Woollard
Dr Javelinot – Matthew Nuttall
Sister Mathilde – Jade Moffat
First Commissary – Gavan Ring
Second Commissary – Michael Ronan
Officer – Michael Lafferty

Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites tells a fictionalised version of the chilling story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, Carmelite nuns who, in 1794 during the closing days of the ‘Reign of Terror’ during the French Revolution, were guillotined in Paris for refusing to renounce their vocation. I last saw this masterpiece at Zurich Opera and for some more background to the opera itself, its plot, and some information on Poulenc, I can do no better than refer you to my review in February 2022 (click here).

This Prom was a semi-staged concert performance of the Barrie Kosky production at Glyndebourne this summer which received rave reviews. Stage direction by Donna Stirrup was faultless and effective, the soloists were all in costume with the set consisting of a bed and chair for the dying Old Prioress. We had to imagine the bareness of the convent and prison, and the opulence of the de la Force home. The soloists used the front of the stage for their entrances and exits and movement around the stage, this meant however that Robin Ticciati had to constantly look round to co-ordinate orchestral entries.

Glyndebourne Opera’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the BBC Proms © Sisi Burn

The soloists were all of the very highest order. British soprano Sally Matthews took time to adjust the volume of her voice to the cavernous acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall. It must be several times larger than at Glyndebourne. Almost inaudible at first, she raised her game after the interval: her acting skills were never in doubt.

Veteran Swedish mezzo-soprano Katarina Dalayman overwhelmed with her acting skills, the look of anguish and pain on her face most convincing, and a perfect voice for the part.

The loveliest voice was that of South African Golda Schultz, now based in Berlin. Her voice is radiant, warm and creamy. Schultz sang in this opera at New York’s Juilliard School as one of the nuns; and is now top casting for this leading role. She points out that this is one of the few operas which satisfy the Bechdel-Wallace Test, featuring women in all the major roles, singing to each other and not discussing men.

Scottish soprano Karen Cargill’s strong voice filled the hall to perfection. I have heard soprano Florie Valiquette at Zurich Opera many times (she is a member of the ensemble there) and admired her beautiful treble – she nearly stole the show.

It was good to see Fiona Kimm in a minor role, well taken. Indeed, all the minor roles were admirably sung.

The two members of the de la Force family were sung by Frenchmen: Paul Gay was the Marquis, tall, deep, resonant; Wotan is in his repertoire. His son, the Chevalier, was ably sung by virile tenor Valentin Thill.

The chorus sang and played their part faultlessly, including vigorous stamping their feet to signify the revolting rabble.

Robin Ticciati was most adept both with the broad sweeps of Poulenc’s magnificent score, and the timing of the jagged brass outbursts. The London Philharmonic are a class act for any opera pit, here they were on the stage so we could see the instruments unleash the orchestral colours.

The Prommers gave the performers a rapturous reception; many will not have heard the opera before, I suspect, and hopefully now count this harrowing and stunning masterpiece as a favourite.

John Rhodes

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