The Robert Carsen/Michael Levine production of Francis
Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites opends the 61st season of the
Teatro de Campoamor in Sepember in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo.
Carsen and Levine made their debut at Oviedo with Janacek's Jenufa
in 2005, returning now with Poulenc's exquisite, sensitive and
extremely intelligent piece in a production that has toured extensively
since its debut at Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam. The geometric layout
had very few props and the pearl, grey, plain backdrop conveyed warmth
and space. There were no doors, no convent cells, no grillwork, no
crucifixes, not an altar in sight in this profoundly religious work.
Stage movement was flowing; at times the nuns became the actual props--a
wall for example--while costume changes on stage were beautifully
choreo--graphed. Jean Kalman triumphed in the atmospheric lighting of
shadows, and carefully positioned, flickering candles and bonfires.
Brilliant white spotlights from above alternated with gentle yellow from
The libretto and setting are so compelling in Carmelites that the
voices run the risk of playing second fiddle to the stage. Not so for
soprano Maria Bayo, whose penetrating lyrical voice particularly suits
the French language. Her characterisation of the novice Blanche was
weighty, carefully measuring the role through to its andante climax,
when she joined her sisters at the scaffold. Elena de la Merced disappointed, her soprano voice seems to have lost its crystal
luminosity and this made for a strained novice Constance. Romanian mezzo Viorica Cortes in now over 70, but no matter. She gave a dramatic vocal
and extraordinarily theatrical interpretation of the dying Mother
Superior, a role that is definitely hers. Maximiano Valdes was the
uninspired conductor of the Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias. The
orchestra missed out on the pulsating rhythm, mystery and disturbing
subtleties of this tour de force exploring the proposition, "We do
not die for ourselves alone, but for each other".