Just kidding. Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmelites does involve nuns and a guillotine, but let’s be frank, this opera is not a comedy. It takes place in late 18th century France’s Reign of Terror and it’s about prayer, privation, and personal sacrifice. In an opera world full of love at first sight, overwrought love tragedies, and absurd cross-dressing romantic comedies, it’s refreshing to see a compelling kissing-free drama about martyrdom.
As for the music, although it was written in the 1950s, in the midst of the modern era’s obsession with atonality, Poulenc (1899-1963) was somewhat old-fashioned. In the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, he is quoted:
It seems that my Carmelites can only sing tonal music. You must forgive them.
It is indeed a tonal work and one with touching lyricism plus powerful choral prayers in Latin.
Pittsburghers will get a chance to see this opera from April 30 to May 8, 2011. It’s a rare chance indeed. Hax McCullough’s Illustrated History of Opera in Pittsburgh indicates that the Pittsburgh Opera has never performed this work before.
To preview it beforehand or explore other versions afterward, the library has CDs (in versions in English, German, and the original French) and DVDs (in English and French). In addition, it’s also available in a new streaming Opera in Video database that we offer.
But don’t miss the rare opportunity to see it live! And even if you’re irreligious like me, you will still be deeply affected by the pathos of the unique final scene (SPOILER ALERT: it features the guillotine).
See you at the opera!