Great Performances: Poulenc’s ‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’ at OSU

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Detail from Pietro Novelli's painting "Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saints" (1641)(Photo: Museo Diocesano di Palermo)
Detail from Pietro Novelli's painting "Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saints" (1641)(Photo: Museo Diocesano di Palermo)

WOSU retiree Dave Gelfer handed me a three CD package over lunch the other day.

Inside was a 1985 performance of Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogues of the Carmelites, at The Ohio State University School of Music.

This production by Roger Stevens featured some voices many will recognize: William Florescu, Jocelyn McDonald and Theresa Cincione among them.

Marshall Haddock conducted just as he will conduct Britten’s Albert Herringat OSU in a few months.

Carmelites is a moving and disturbing tale of an order of nuns trying to survive during the French Revolution.

In reality, sixteen nuns of the Carmelite Convent in Compiegne, France were guillotined in Paris on July 17, 1794,  just ten days before the terror ended with the execution of Maximilien Robespierre.

Poulenc’s opera was based on a novel by Georges Bernanos and a screenplay by Gertrude von le Fort. It premiered at La Scala, Milan in 1957.

The opera closes with a devastating coup de theatre. The guillotine is off stage. The nuns, lead by the prioress, Madame Lidoine, mount the scaffold one at a time, singing the Salve Regina.

As the blade falls off-stage, the voices diminish one by one-until we are left with he troubled young nun Blanche de la Force, who whispers the final words: In saeculorum saecula, forever and ever.

The blade falls one more time.

Silence.

Here is that finale, as performed in Mershon auditorium on May 9, 1985:

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/carmelites-finale.mp3"]

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