Review: Stirring revival of Poulenc opera at Met
This April 24, 2013 photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera shows the opening scene in Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmélites," during a dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP Photo/Ken Howard)
One of the most harrowing final scenes in all of opera is the ending of Poulenc's "Dialogues of the Carmelites," when the nuns condemned by the French Revolution walk one by one to the scaffold, singing a gradually thinning chorus punctuated by the slashing sounds of a guillotine.
So emotionally drained was the audience at Saturday afternoon's performance at the Metropolitan Opera that silence lingered in the house for several moments after the curtain fell. Only then did tumultuous applause erupt for the terrific performance that had just taken place.
But there is another death scene much earlier in the opera that is almost as wrenching. As the old prioress, Madame de Croissy, lies writhing on her deathbed, she cries out that God has forsaken her and the Carmelite order. As vividly portrayed by the veteran mezzo-soprano Felicity Palmer, the agonies and blasphemies of the prioress were painful and even shocking to witness.
In this April 26, 2013 photo provided by the Metropolitan Opera, Isabel Leonard as Blanche de la Force leads a procession in Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmélites," during a dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (AP Photo/Ken Howard)
Palmer was part of a uniformly strong cast the Met assembled for this revival of the classic John Dexter production, first seen in 1977 and absent from the stage for a decade.
As Blanche, mezzo Isabel Leonard sounded vibrant, even if she didn't always capture the vulnerability of the young postulant who struggles with her fear of death. Though the role was written for soprano, it is often taken by mezzos, and Leonard matched her rich lower register with secure high notes. Her voice contrasted nicely with the light soprano of Erin Morley, who was captivating as Sister Constance, the cheerful country girl who comforts Blanche.